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STEINBECK 
A LIFE IN LETTERS 




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Frontispiece photograph by Tom Fnssell 
Maps by Libra Graphics, Inc 


Copyright 0 1975 by Elaine A. Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten 
Copyright 1952 by John Steinbeck 

Copyright © 1969 by the Executors of the Estate of John Steinbeck 
All rights reserved 

First published in 1975 by The Viking Press, Inc. 

625 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10022 
Published simultaneously in Canada by 
The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited 


LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBUCATION DATA 

Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968. 

Steinbeck; a life in letters. 

Includes index. 

I. Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968 — Correspondence. 
PS3537T3234Z53 W 5 8i3'.5'2 75-15758 

ISBN 0-^70-66962-8— Limited edition 
ISBN 0-670-66961-X— Regular edition 


Printed in U.S.A. 




Preface 


“In sixty years I’ve left a lot of tracks,” John Steinbeck wrote 
in 1962. This is a record of some of those tracks: books written 
and read, journeys made, places visited, people met and 
loved and hated, as well as some projects never realized, 
works begun and abandoned, ideas conceived in multitudes 
and dying as they were born. It is the record of a questing, 
weighing, synthesizing, creating mind that never rested — 
that resented rest, except the kind of rest he found in work. 
But chiefly and always, it is the record of a man learning his 
craft. 

In his youth the Depression lay heavy on him and his 
friends, writers, mostly, like himself— unrecognized as yet, 
too poor to drive far or take a train to see each other. There 
was only this one way to keep in touch. Actually, he preferred 
this way because he was diffident in ordinary face-to-face 
contact. “I write as usual because I have never been able to 
trust speech as communication of anything except love and 
desire or hustling.” 

“It is a form of talking.” But talking on the telephone ap- 
palled him. “I write instead of telephoning because I have 



And the letter-writing habit, ingrained over the years, be- 
came at last inseparable from the work itself. It was his way 
of warming up: mornings, before he started work, he got the 
juices flowing by writing letters. 

He wrote them on and with anything available — his fa- 
ther’s business paper, pages torn from a ledger, hotel statio- 
nery purloined on trips — but the most typical was the legal 
pad and the soft pencil. This became almost a trademark. 
When a friend opened an envelope and saw the familiar 
crabbed and nearly indecipherable hand on ruled yellow 
paper, he knew he had a letter from Steinbeck. 

The pencil was his instrument. He was passionate about 
pencils, about the way they felt between his fingers, about 
their weight and pressure. He boasted of calluses from hold- 
ing them. “I sharpen all the pencils in the morning and it 
takes one more sharpening for a day’s work. That’s twenty- 
four sharp points. I can make a newly sharpened pencil last 
almost a page.” 

From time to time, however, he switched to pens, pens of 
all kinds, each carrying its own mystique. Once in Somerset 
he fashioned his own pens from the quills of “a grandfather 
goose.” 

His handwriting varied. Typically, it was minuscule. He 
once congratulated himself on having squeezed more than 
five hundred words on a postcard. Partly this was Depres- 
sion-born to save paper, but it soon became a habit — one that 
from time to time he decided to break. “Trying to write this 
manuscript big. It’s just silly, this tiny writing.” To this end 
he scrawled or printed, but looking at the whole body of his 
correspondence, the impression is of a tiny scribble that 
often needs a magnifying glass to be easily read. 

But he lived in the mechanical age, and he could not ignore 
a machine so fascinating as the typewriter. He wrote en- 
thusiastically whenever a secondhand or new typewriter 
came into his life and assumed that everyone he told shared 
his fascination with the touch, the type faces, and the sym- 
bols it was capable of. 

In the preparation of this book several thousand letters 
were collected, often six or seven written on the same day, so 
that it seems a kind of miracle that in addition Steinbeck 
found time and energy for the twenty-nine titles he pub- 
lished. He kept copies of few of his letters and none of his 


viii 



more personal ones. Our compilation was built around the 
large collections which we knew existed and which form the 
backbone of this book: the more than six hundred letters 
covering a span of forty-odd years to Elizabeth Otis, his 
friend and literary agent; those that started in the twenties 
and went through his life to his college roommate, Carlton 
A. Sheffield; and those to his editor, Pascal Covici. These 
were the nucleus. The next step was to locate and lure back 
other letters or photocopies of them. We had two major 
sources: a list of people who had congratulated Steinbeck 
when he received the Nobel Prize and another of those who 
had sent condolences when he died. We wrote them all. We 
asked for all kinds of letters — serious letters, funny letters, 
business letters, love letters, good-humored and ill-tempered 
letters — reflections of the many moods of a moody man. 

Nearly everybody responded. Some letters were still in the 
possession of the original addressees, some had been dis- 
posed of to collectors or university libraries. A surprising 
number had been kept from the time when Steinbeck’s name 
was unknown. People heard of the project and volunteered 
material or suggested further sources. Letters poured in. 

Of course there were disappointments: a few flat refusals, 
correspondents unable to find letters they were sure they had 
kept, letters lost when recipients had died. A few dealers 
refused because, they said, pubhcation would lower the mar- 
ket value of the originals. And some close members of Stein- 
beck’s family felt that their privacy would be violated by 
seeing their letters in print. 

But we had many more than we could use in a volume 
designed for the general public with no pretensions to inclu- 
siveness. All letters were read aloud, some several times over 
as they survived elimination. We began by reading collec- 
tions of correspondence to a single recipient, but it soon be- 
came clear that if we were to trace Steinbeck’s development 
as man and writer, his letters must be evaluated and pre- 
sented chronologically. This involved the tricky business of 
assigning dates where he had not done so and where en- 
velopes with postmarks were lost. Ordinarily the year meant 
nothing to him. The month usually had to be learned from 
the contents. He frequently headed a page with something as 
uninformative as “Tuesday — think.” 

The tests of internal evidence were several: where was he 


ix 



living? Though in the early years he moved about so much, 
often using letterheads from previous addresses, that uncer- 
tainty was compounded. What flowers did he say were 
blooming? What pets were ill? What holidays was he cele- 
brating? But because manuscripts are the milestones of a 
writer’s life, the basic problem was to place these milestones 
in time: what was being published, and what was he working 
on? Here again we encountered difficulties because he 
started so many works he did not finish, or even name, and 
because he rewrote some of them so many times. 

He himself had told a friend, “There is a difference be- 
tween writing letters and answering them.” Those that were 
mere answers we discarded. Inevitably in such a huge output 
there were trivial, tedious, repetitious, or “duty” letters, and 
these, too, were eliminated, as were some whose impact had 
been dulled by the passage of time. But we still had too many 
and were forced to conclude that we must sacrifice almost all 
material that had ever been published before. 

Among the letters we retained, we have abbreviated a good 
number. Steinbeck was an austere self-editor of works in- 
tended for publication, but by his own confession he fre- 
quently over-wrote, and he did so especially in letters to peo- 
ple he knew well. He neither reconsidered nor made 
corrections, any more than he would have in conversation. 
He often rambled, repeated, or mentioned matters that read- 
ers might find obscure. These passages we have cut. 

There has been only one criterion throughout: is it interest- 
ing? In no case have we omitted a letter or a passage from a 
letter to alter or modify either meaning or intention. 

In a way he left us instructions. He advised a friend who 
was planning to give his collection of Steinbeck letters to a 
library, “If you would look through these and ink out refer- 
ences that might hurt feelings of some living person, it might 
be good.” On the other hand, when he was considering the 
publication of a diary that was later issued posthumously as 
Journal of a Novel, he spoke of retaining “the personal 
things,” and added, “They do give it a bite.” We have tried to 
follow both precepts. 

More than two years passed as our work progressed. 
Material piled up, gaps in time were filled, chronology sorted 
itself out. And it was not till we reread a nearly completed 
first draft that, with some astonishment, we saw the real 


X 



nature of the book. It was not an anthology to be merely 
sampled. It was a narrative. In a way that even Steinbeck 
could not have foreseen as he was creating the individual 
jigsaw pieces of this puzzle whose final picture would be 
visible only at a distance and in its entirety, he had, in these 
letters that deal with the “many tracks” he left, written the 
story of his life. 

E.S. 

R.W. 

New York City, igjs 




Note 


Early in his career John Steinbeck stated a position about the 
technical side of his manuscripts from which he never de- 
viated. He was writing to a friend, another writer. 

“I want to speak particularly of your theory of clean manu- 
script and spelling as correct as a collegiate stenographer 
and every nasty little comma in its place and preening of 
itself. I have the instincts of a minstrel rather than those of 
a scrivener. When my sounds are all in place, I can send 
them to a stenographer who knows his trade and he can slip 
the commas about until they sit comfortably and he can spell 
the words so that school teachers will not raise their eye- 
brows when they read them. Why should I bother?” 

If this was his attitude about manuscripts, his disdain for 
spelling and punctuation in letters may be imagined. 

We have assumed the role of the collegiate stenographer 
only up to a point. In order to retain a characteristic way- 
ward color, we have corrected only the most outrageous mis- 
spellings, and added punctuation only for purposes of reada- 
bility. 

For similar purposes of readability, we have not used el- 
lipses or other devices to indicate internal cuts. Nor have we 
used footnotes. Necessary information has been placed in 
narrative bridges or sometimes within letters. Dates or 

xiii 



points of origin supplied by us appear in brackets, as do 
certain identifications or editorial comments within the text 
of the letters themselves. An appendix contains facts about 
letters quoted — the present location of the originals and 
where, when, and to whom they were written. References in 
this appendix are by page number except in those cases 
where ambiguity results from there being more than one 
letter on a page. Such references are additionally identified 
by a few words from the first line of the letter. 

A book like this confronts its designer with extraordinary 
and complicated problems. We are fortunate that it was Bar- 
bara D. Knowles of The Viking Press who solved them. We 
are grateful to Professor Jackson J. Benson of San Diego State 
College for his zeal in providing us with photocopies and 
microfilm transcriptions of many letters, and to the scores of 
Steinbeck correspondents, librarians, and curators who were 
kind enough to share their letters with us. They are individu- 
ally listed in the appendix. Most particularly, we are grateful 
to Elizabeth Otis, to whom John Steinbeck bequeathed all 
rights in the letters written to her and who has most gener- 
ously turned them over to us. 

Our special thanks go to Gertrude Chase who joined us in 
this project at the beginning and who soon proved herself far 
more than a secretary. Her efficiency, enthusiasm, persever- 
ance, and good humor made a complex task considerably 
lighter. 


xiv 



Contents 


Preface vii 
Note xiii 


192M932 X 

1948-1949 3.7 

1959 5X3 

1932-1939 57 

1950-19S2 

1999-1991 553 

1939-1939 X.7 

1952-1954 

1991-1993 ,X3 

1939-1943 X5X 

1955-1957 503 

1993-1995 7^5 

1943-1943 353 

1957-1959 553 



Appendix 865 


Index 897 


XV 




“...tliinking 
ponderously' 
ild seeking . . 




John Ernst Steinbeck bom February 27 in Salinas, 
California. His father was manager of a flour mill and 
treasurer of Monterey County, his mother had been a 
schoolteacher. He was the third of four children and 
the only son. 



Graduated fi-om high school. Began intermittent 
attendance at Stanford University, 


1 

fl 

fl 


First publication, two stories in the Stanford 
Spectator, 


Left Stanford, Went to New York City. Wrote short 
stories but could find no publisher. 


Return^ to California and continued to write, 
supporting himself with a variety of jobs. 


When John Steinbeck was twenty-four and broke, he 
found a way to support himself while working at 
what mattered most to him — ^becoming a writer. 

“I had a job as caretaker on a large estate at Lake 
Tahoe [in his native California],” he wrote later. “It 
required that I be snowed in for eight months every 
year. My nearest neighbor was four miles away.” 

Here he wrote, and several times rewrote, his first 
novel. Cup of Gold; and it was from here that he 
wrote to Monterey to Webster F. Street (“Toby”), 
who had been a collegemate at Stanford University. 



Webster F. Street 


Lake Tahoe 
Winter 1926 
Monday 

Dear Toby: 

Do you know, one of the things that made me come here, 
was, as you guessed, that I am frightfully afraid of being 
alone. The fear of the dark is only part of it. I wanted to break 
that fear in the middle, because I am afraid much of my 
existence is going to be more or less alone, and I might as 
well go into training for it. It comes on me at night mostly, 
in little waves of panic, that constrict something in my stom- 
ach. But don’t you think it is good to fight these things? Last 
night, some quite large animal came and sniffed under the 
door. I presume it was a coyote, though I do not know. The 


3 



moon had not come up, and when I ran outside there was 
nothing to be seen. But the main thing was that I was fright- 
ened, even though I knew it could be nothing but a coyote. 
Don’t tell any one I am afraid. I do not like to be suspected 
of being afraid. 

As soon as you can, get to work on the Little Lady [A Green 
Lady, a play Street was writing]. Keep your eye on cost of 
production, small and inexpensive scenes, few in the cast 
and lots of wise cracks, as racy as you think the populace will 
stand. Always crowd the limit. And also if you have time, try 
your hand on a melo drahmar, something wild, and mysteri- 
ous and unexpected with characters turning out to be other 
people and some of them turning out to be nobody at all. 

And if you can find a small but complete dictionary lying 
about anywhere send it to me. I have none, and apparently 
the Brighams [his employers] are so perfect in their mother 
tongue that they do not need one. 

I shall send you some mss pretty soon if you wish. I have 
been working slowly but deliciously on one thing. There is 
something so nice about being able to put down a sentence 
and then look it over and then change it, sometimes taking 
half an hour over two lines. And it is possible here because 
there seems to be no reason for rush. 

If, on going through Salinas, you have the time, you might 
look in on my folks and tell them there is little possibility of 
my either starving or freezing. Be as honest as you can, but 
picture me in a land flowing with ham and eggs, and one 
wherein woolen underdrawers grow on the fir trees. Tell 
them that I am living on the inside of a fiery furnace, or 
something. 

It’s time for me to go to the post office now, I will cease 
without the usual candle-like spluttering. Write to me when 
and as often as you get a chance. I shall depend on the mail 
quite a lot. 

love 

John 


4 


Depending on the mail had already become a habit. 
Midway in his life, in a letter, he recalled his youth 
in Salinas: 

“We were poor people with a hell of a lot of land 
which made us think we were rich people, even 
when we couldn’t buy food and were patched. Cabal- 
leros — lords of the land, you know, and really low 
church mice but proud.” 

After graduation from Salinas High School, he en- 
tered the freshman class at Stanford University in 
1919 when he was seventeen. 

He had many of the usual preoccupations of young 
men of his age. As he wrote one girl: 

“We have been dancing twice a week in the pavilion. 
There is a stem and rockbound row of old ladies who 
have constituted themselves chaperones.” 

And to another girl: 

“I cannot step out much, Florence, because I have 
lots of ambitions and very little money so my fun 
from now on must be very prosaic.” 

“I am poor, dreadfully poor. I have to feed someone 
else before I can eat myself. I must live in an atmo- 
sphere of dirty dishes and waitresses with soiled 
ears, if I wish to know about things like psychology 
and logic.” [He was working in the City Cafe, Palo 
Alto.] 

He held many jobs to finance his education. Some- 
times he dropped out of college for whole quarters at 
a time to earn tuition for the next quarter. “Now I 
will work and go to school and work again.” 

He clerked in a department store and in a haber- 
dashery shop, he worked as a surveyor in the Big 
Sur, and as a ranch hand near King City, which later 
became the setting for Of Mice and Men. And of 
another job, he viurote years later: 

“When I was in college I was a real poor kid. I got a 
job breaking army remounts for officers’ gentle be- 
hinds. I got $30 a remoxmt or fifty with basic polo. 
You know — ^haunch stops and spins and stick work 
around head and ears and pastern. I didn’t walk 
without a limp for months. They must have got some 


5 



of those remounts out of the chutes on the rodeo 
circuit. But I needed the dough bad and I figured it 
was better to limp and eat than to be whole and 
hungry.” 

Several times through this period he worked for the 
Spreckels Sugar Company — “Always on the night 
shift,” a friend recalls, “apparently as somebody to 
keep the laboratory open, though he sometimes said 
he was ‘Night Chemist’; or at the company plant in 
Manteca, near Stockton, ‘loading and stacking sacks 
of sugar, twelve hours a day, seven days a week.’ ” 

Already it was clear that the most important thing 
in his life, the driving force, was literature — reading 
whatever he could, struggling to master language, 
testing and straining at high-fiown imagery and 
dramatic attitudinizing — what he himself called 
“distinguished writing.” 

To Carl Wilhelmson, a classmate and another 
would-be writer; 

“At times I feel that I am playing around the edges 
of things, getting nowhere. An extreme and callow 
youth playing with philosophy must be a pitiable 
thing from your point of view. Today was a long day, 
the hours went by so slowly that I thought of many 
things and finally went into a mental sleep. I sat on 
a pipe and watched, and spoke in monosyllables to 
those who were about me, and I knew so many 
things which they did not know, there were so many 
worlds open to me whose existence was beyond their 
powers of comprehension, and I such a young lad.” 


To Carl Wilhelmson 


Palo Alto 
April 7, 1924 

Dear Carl: 

Here, on this paper, there are only you and me, and the 
things that each of us tries so hard to understand, clamber- 
ing up through long, long researches into the past, and think- 

6 



ing ponderously and seeking, and finding that for which we 
looked a glorified question mark. 

It would be desirable to be flung, unfettered by conscious- 
ness, into the void, to sail unhindered through eternity. 
Please do not think that I am riding along on baseless words, 
covering threadbare thoughts with garrulous tapestries. I 
am not. It is the words which are inadequate. 

You know so much and I can tell you nothing, and I don’t 
think I can even make you feel anything you have not felt 
more poignantly than I, who am a mummer in a brocaded 
boudoir. 

I wrote of miners’ faces around a fire. Their bodies did not 
show in the light so that the yellow faces seemed dangling 
masks against the night. And I wrote of little voices in the 
glens which were the spirits of passions and desires and 
dreams of dead men’s minds. And Mrs. Russell [an instructor] 
said they were not real, that such things could not be, and she 
was not going to stand me bullying her into such claptrap 
nonsense. Those were not her words but her meaning, and 
then she smiled out of the corner of her mouth as nurses do 
when an idiot child makes blunders. And I could not stand 
that, Carl, so I swore at her because I had been out all night 
in the making of my pictures. And now she is very cold, and 
she means to flunk me in my course, thinking that she can 
hurt me thus. I wish that she could know that I do not in the 
least care. 

And I wish you were back, because you could understand 
the things I try to say, and help me to say them better, and 
I know you would, for you did once. 

John Steinbeck 


Later that spring, again to Carl Wilhelmson: 

“There have been six short stories this quarter. [Two 
of these appeared in the Stanford Spectator.] I won- 
der if you remember the one about the machinist 
who made engines and felt a little omnipotent until 
his own machine pulled his arm from him. Then he 
cursed God and suffered retribution at the hands of 
God or thought he did. That has finally been done to 


7 



my half satisfaction. Of the others, one was perfectly 
rotten, two were fair, three were quite good. About 
the only thing that can be said for them is that they 
do not resemble anything which has ever been writ- 
ten. 

“Miss Mirrielees [his instructor in creative writing] 
is very kind, she hates to hurt feelings. She says that 
she thinks my stufP ought to be published but she 
doesn’t know where. Don’t get the idea that I am 
swimming against an incoming tide of approbation. 
I’m not. For every bit of favorable criticism, I get 
four knocks in the head. Oh! well, who cares?” 

Recalling this period later, he wrote his college- 
mate, Robert Cathcart: 

“I first read Caesar and Cleopatra about seven or 
eight years ago, and was so impressed that I im- 
mediately wrote a sequel to it concerning the com- 
ing of Marc and his battle with the few and carefully 
misunderstood principles Caesar had left with 
Cleopatra. It was a failure. I was about seventeen at 
the time. And as I shall never write another play, I 
bequeath the idea to you.” 

“You asked me what I had been reading,” he wrote 
Mrs. Edith Wagner, mother of two boyhood friends 
from Salinas. “Here is the last list which we brought 
from the library, The Book of the Dead from exist- 
ing papyri, Les Femmes Savantes of Moli^re, which 
I had never read in French before and a low detec- 
tive tale labeled L’Homme du Dent d’Or by a man of 
whom I never heard, and who in the French fashion 
manages to get his murder accomplished in a bed- 
room; La Barraca of Ibafiez, which is shorter and I 
think more effective than his others; some short sto- 
ries by Katherine Fullerton Gerould, and she cer- 
tainly is the master of her kind of short stories. I 
have just finished the autobiography of Casanova 
and The Judge by Rebecca West which is a wonder- 
ful piece of writing. If you haven’t read it you must 
for it is one of the best things I have read in many 
a day. In a maniacal period this summer I went 
through Pushkin and Turgenev.” 

He left Stanford for good without a degree in June 
1925, and managed to get a berth to New York as a 
“workaway” on a freighter through the Panama Ca- 
nal. For the next year he lived unhappily in Brook- 
lyn and later in a room overlooking Gramercy Park. 

8 



“I guess I hate New York,” he was to write in 1935, 
“because I had a thin, lonely, hungry time of it there. 
And I remember too well the cockroaches under my 
wash basin and the impossibility of getting a job. I 
was scared thoroughly. And I can’t forget the scare.” 

He did eventually get work as a laborer on the con- 
struction of Madison Square Garden, on 50th Street 
and Eighth Avenue. Then his mother’s brother, Jo- 
seph Hamilton, got him a job on the New York 
American, about which he later wrote: 

“Worked on N. Y. American and from what the city 
editor said when he fired me, I don’t think the 
American remembers it with any more pleasure 
than I do.” 


And even later he recalled: 


“I worked for the American and was assigned to 
Federal Court in the old Park Row post office where 
I perfected my bridge game and did some lousy re- 
porting. I did however perfect a certain literary ver- 
satility. This was during Prohibition, and Federal 
judges as well as others in power were generous 
with confiscated whiskey to the press room. There- 
fore it became my duty sometimes, as cadet reporter, 
to send the same story to Graphic, American, Times, 
Tribune and Brooklyn Eagle each in its own ver- 
nacular when some of my peers were unable to 
catch the typewriter as it went by. Then I was fired. 
I learned that external reality had no jurisdiction in 
the Hearst press and that what happened must in no 
case interfere with what WR wanted to happen.” 

Out of funds and discouraged by his inability to sell 
any of the stories he had been writing, he returned 
to the West Coast in the summer of 1926, working his 
way once again on a freighter. For the next two 
years, when he was twenty-four and twenty-five, he 
supported himself and his writing by odd jobs in the 
Lake Tahoe area, like the snowbound one as a care- 
taker mentioned earlier. He also worked at the local 
fi sh hatcheries and as driver of the mail-coach at 
Fallen Leaf Lodge, which belonged to Toby Street’s 
in-laws. 


Following is the first of a number of introspective 
letters written on his birthday. It was written, like 
many similar ones, to his college roommate, Carlton 
A. Sheffield, variously called “Duke.” “Book,” “Juk,” 


9 



or even “Jook.” Probably Steinbeck’s closest male 
friend, Duke Sheffield is his only correspondent who 
appears throughout this book, from first chapter to 
last. He was less than a year older than Steinbeck 
and had entered Stanford the same semester. “Knew 
Steinbeck,” Sheffield writes, “but only as a class- 
mate with whom I occasionally boxed, always los- 
ing.” Later they roomed together, and sometimes 
their odd jobs coincided, as when they worked to- 
gether at the Spreckels factory in Manteca, though 
Sheffield most often worked as a newspaperman or 
as a teacher. 


To Carlton A. Sheffield 


Lake Tahoe 
February 25, 1928 

Dear Duke: 

It is a long time since I have begun a letter such as 1 mean 
this to be: an unhurried dissertation in which there is no 
sense of duty. Perhaps I have lost the power to write such a 
letter. Of late it has been my habit to write one page of short, 
tacit observation, which might have given you the idea that 
I am become nervous and short. And you, of late, have been 
determinedly cynical. Thus our letters. 

My failure to work for the last three weeks is not far to find. 
I finished my novel and let it stand for a while, then read it 
over. And it was no good. The disappointment of that was 
bound to have some devastating, though probably momen- 
tary effect. You see, I thought it was going to be good. Even 
to the last page, I thought it was going to be good. And it is 
not. 

Why are you telling me about the things you go to? Are you 
ashamed or proud? Do you want me to know you attend such 
gatherings? I think you think I look down on Rosalind [Rosa- 
lind Shepard, a girl friend of Sheffield’s], and you want to 
justify her. You make fun of these things and yet they must 
impress you to some extent. I know they would impress me. 
I have always been a little afraid of a woman who wore a 


10 



dress that cost more than a hundred dollars. 

I have a new novel preparing but preparing very slowly. I 
am not quick about such things. They must roll about in my 
mind for an age before they can be written. I think it will 
take me two years to write a full length novel, counting the 
periods when I walk the streets and try to comb up courage 
enough to blow out my brains. 

Isn t it a shame, Duke, that a thing which has as many 
indubitably fine things in it as my Cup of Gold, should be, as 
a whole, utterly worthless? It is a sorrowful matter to me. 

As usual I have made a mess of this letter. I didn’t finish 
it the other night. Now it is late the night before the [mail] 
boat, and I shall get very little written on ft. Do you realize 
that I am twenty-six now? I don’t. I don’t feel twenty-six and 
I don t look that old, and I have done nothing to justify my 
years. Yet I don’t regret the years. I have enjoyed them after 
a fashion. My sufferings have not been great nor have my 
pleasures been violent. I wish we might resurrect a summer 
out of the heap of years, but that is not possible at this time. 
Some other summer we will try. 

Am I to be allowed to meet Rosalind, or are you afraid of 
me now? I should really like to. I feel none of the old antago- 
nism toward her at any rate. I have been cutting wood vio- 
lently to keep from being lonely. And I am lonely just the 
same. I wish you would write more often. I am on the point 
of joining a correspondence club if you don’t. 

A triumph. I am learning to chew tobacco, not the lowly 
Star but the lordly Boot Jack, a bit under the tongue you know 
and swallow the spit. I find I like it. It is snowing again. 
Confound it, will the winter never be over? I crave to have the 
solid ground under my feet. You cannot understand that 
craving if you have never lived in a country where every step 
was unstable. It is very tiresome and tiring to walk and have 
the ground give way under you at every step. 

I am finishing the Henry ms out of duty [Cup of Gold, a 
fictionalized biography of Henry Morgan, the pirate], but I 
have no hope of it any more. I shall probably pack it in Limbo 
balls and place it among the lost hopes in the chest of the 
years. Good bye, Henry. I thought you were heroic but you are 
only, as was said of you, a babbler of words and rather 
clumsy about it. 

I shall make an elegy to Henry Morgan, who is a monu- 
ment to my own lack of ability. I shall go ahead, but I wonder 


II 



if that sharp agony of words will occur to me again. I wonder 
if I shall ever be drunken with rhythms any more. Duke has 
his Rosalind, but I have no Rosalind nor any Phryne. I am 
twenty-six and I am not young any more. I shall write good 
novels but hereafter I ride Pegasus with a saddle and martin- 
gale, for I am afraid Pegasus will rear and kick, and I am not 
the sure steady horseman I once was. I do not take joy in the 
unmanageable horse any more. I want a hackney of tried 
steadiness. 

It is sad when the snow is falling. 

love 

jawn 


When he suggests meeting Rosalind, and asks, “Or 
are you afraid of me now?” he is probably referring 
to the following letter which he had written two 
years before, to the girl SheflGleld had then just mar- 
ried, and who had since died. It is a letter that, 
among other things, explains and illuminates Stein- 
beck’s friendship with Shef&eld. Based on the con- 
viction that Sheffield had been misled into matri- 
mony, it is an early example of that passionate 
excess, of both loyalty and vindictiveness, which 
would characterize Steinbeck’s behavior about peo- 
ple and issues throughout his life. 


To Ruth Carpenter Sheffield 


38 Gramercy Park 
New York 
June 1926 


Dear Ruth; 

I received notice of your marriage to my friend. I resolved 
to write you a letter containing a threat, an appeal and an 


12 



explanation. On your reception of these three I must base my 
esteem of you. I agree that my esteem may seem of little 
consequence. 

I love this person so much that I would cut your charming 
throat should you interfere seriously with his happiness or 
his manifest future. You have in your hands the seeds of a 
very great genius, be careful how you nourish them. If Duke 
loves you, then you have qualities which are impeccable, and 
to which I must bow. But you cannot tear in a day the cloth 
which was long and careful in the making. Thus I appeal to 
you, since you were given the honor of being the victim, to 
sacrifice yourself, not to this person’s person, but to the chil- 
dren of his brain. If you are big enough you will have under- 
stood this before now, if not, all of my telling will only make 
you angry. 

I have promised some explanation of my position. Neither 
this person nor myself had a brother. Because of these 
things, we went through our very young years lonely and 
seeking. We had no intimates, practically no friends. We 
made enemies readily because we were far above our im- 
mediate associates. In college we met, and at every point the 
one seemed to supplement and strengthen the other. We are 
not alike, rather we are opposites, but also we are equals. The 
combination was put to severe tests. We took the same girl to 
dances and things, and the friendship grew. We fought 
bloodily and the matter was strengthened. We worked in a 
vicious heat and emerged to find a wonderful comradeship. 
The outcome was a structure of glorious dream. Are you 
understanding me at all? He was the cathode and I the anode. 
We laughed, quarreled, drank, were sad, considered life, eth- 
ics, philosophies. We did not always agree. More often we 
openly disagreed. But always in the back of the mind of each 
there was the thought that the one was not complete without 
the other and never could be. It would have been easy, from 
our constant attendance one on the other, to draw obscene 
conclusions, but our fists quite precluded any such feeling. 
We were constantly together. Do you wish to interfere in this 
so that you may have him more surely to youyself, or would 
you rather attempt to come into the circle? Perhaps you can. 
I do not know you. Undoubtedly each of us supplies a great 
need in him, take care that you do not overstep your need and 
your usefulness. 

Meanwhile I congratulate you as one who has found a very 


13 



precious thing. I give you my utmost respect and allegiance 
as long as you are worthy of it. I shall regard any attempt at 
alienation as an act harmful to him, because I know that I 
am necessary to him as he is necessary to me. 

May I not hear your attitude? 


Sincerely 
John Steinbeck 


The following summer he met the girl who was to be 
his own wife. Carol Henning and her sister, tourists 
on holiday, visited the Tahoe City Hatchery while he 
was working there. 

Later in 1928 he moved to San Francisco, where 
Carol had a job. He shared an apartment with Carl 
Wilhelmson and started a new project. Webster F. 
Street, unable to complete his play, The Green Lady, 
to his satisfaction, had turned it over to Steinbeck to 
do what he would with it. The material went 
through many mutations in the next several years. 
After numerous rewrites and title changes, it even- 
tually emerged as Steinbeck’s second published 
novel. To A God Unknown. 

While in New York Steinbeck had looked up a Stan- 
ford friend, Amasa Miller (“Ted”), who was starting 
a career in the law. Because no professional literary 
agent had yet shown any interest in Steinbeck’s 
manuscripts. Miller had offered to try to place them. 
Not until late January 1929 — almost four years later 
— ^was he able to wire Steinbeck from New York that 
at last he had an acceptance: Robert M. McBride and 
Company would publish Cup of Gold. A notation on 
the telegram Steinbeck sent back indicates that the 
novel had been read and rejected by seven other 
publishers. 

In the fall, he learned that another classmate and 
fellow writer, A. Grove Day, was living in New Jer- 
sey. 


14 



To A. Grove Day 


2953 Jackson Street 
San Francisco 
[November] 1929 

Dear Grove: 

At present Carl Wilhelmson and I live in the upper storey 
of an old house here in S. F. It is a good life and very cheap. 
Like a squad of fleas, ferocious and very serious, we still 
make forays and dignified campaigns against the body of art. 
It is funny and a little sad (for the onlooker) and lots of fun 
(for us). We take our efforts to write with great seriousness, 
hammering away for two years on a novel and such things. 
I suppose in this respect we have changed less than any one 
you knew in Stanford. It is funny too. We have taken the 
ordinary number of beatings and I don’t think there is much 
strength in either of us, and still we go on butting our heads 
against the English Novel and nursing our bruises as though 
they were the wounds of honorable war. I don’t know one bit 
more about spelling and punctuation than I ever did, but I 
think I am learning a little bit about writing. The Morgan 
atrocity {Cup of Gold] pays enough for me to live quietly and 
with a good deal of comfort. In that far it was worth selling. 
I have a novel about finished [one of the versions of To a God 
Unknown] and Carl has finished two and is about a third 
through his third. It is an awful lot of work to write a novel. 
You know that because you have done it. I have been working 
on the present one nearly a year and have not completed it. 
The final draft will not be done before April I’m afraid. We 
don’t do much else nor think much else. 

That’s us. I know no news. Every once in a while I hear a 
bit of news about somebody I know but when I try to repeat 
it I find that I have either forgotten it or have mixed it up 
with something I have heard about some one else. I thought 
I would be getting to New York this winter, but that seems 
impossible. I won’t have enough money and in the second 
place I do not want to move before I have finished this piece 
of work. There was every excuse for the first being bad, be- 


15 



cause it was the first I ever did but I lack that excuse now. 

That seems to be all there is about me. It is such a simple 
life to tell about. Most of our tragedies we have to make up 
and pretend. 

But do write and tell me about the things which have hap- 
pened to you. 

Sincerely, 

John 


To Amasa Miller 


[San Francisco] 
[November 1929] 

Dear Ted: 

Your little note came the other day. It came, in fact the day 
of the big game. Such a game it was. The first half was 
enough to induce a sort of racial apoplexy in the stands. I 
think it was the most exciting football game I ever saw. 

Ted, I swear to God that if I ever finish this novel I shall 
take to writing the tritest kind of plot stories or even true 
confessions. This is so damned hard. I have never worked so 
hard in my life and I don’t seem to be getting ahead much. 
I don’t know when this will be finished. There are about 
three hundred and twenty-five pages done and about seven- 
ty-five to do, and I want to let it rest for a while when I get it 
finished so that I can stand off and get some perspective on it. 

You said in a former letter that I had some money coming 
on the first of November and here it is nearly the first of 
December and none has shown. I am ashamed to go home. 

Carol and I get on as well as always and are together much 
of the time. Fillmore Street has put red and green and yellow 
lights on the arches across the street and is ver^ festive. 
There are mechanical toys in all the store windows. No rain, 
it is to be another dry year. I can never remember when we 
did not have a threat of a dry year. The natives cannot 
remember that this is not a wet country and so about Christ- 
mas every year they begin to moaij^jibout the dryness of the 

16 



year and the possible damage to the crops. And the crops 
never seem to suffer very much, taking, as they do, most of 
their irrigation from the sea air. It is absurd. Everything is 
absurd. I wish I weren’t, but I think I am absurder than any 
of the rest. 

I learn from obscure sources that I have paresis, that I am 
a woman, a Jew, that I, in the Morgan, have written a book 
aimed at the Catholics, that I have given up writing and am 
frantically looking for a job so that 1 can get married. Many 
are the stories I hear about myself. I have mistresses I have 
never met. When I hear that I am a sodomist and a zoophalist 
then I shall know that I have reached the high point of fame, 
but I suppose I can hardly expect such exaltation for many 
years. 

And that’s all. Write to me soon. 

jawn 


To A. Grove Day 


San Francisco 
[December 5] 1929 

Dear Grove; 

It is a very long time since I have started a letter with any 
anticipation of enjoying the writing of it. 

Long ago I determined that any one who appraised The 
Cup of Gold for what it was should be entitled to a big kiss. 
The book was an immature experiment written for the pur- 
pose of getting all the wise cracks (known by sophomores as 
epigrams) and all the autobiographical material (which 
hounds us until we get it said) out of my system. And I really 
did not intend to publish it. The book accomplished its pur- 
gative purpose. I am no more concerned with myself very 
much. I can write about other people. I have not the slightest 
desire to step into Donn B3rrne’s shoes. I may not have his 
ability with the vernacular but I have twice his head. I think 
I have swept all the Cabellyo-Byrneish preciousness out for 
good. The new book is a straightforward and simple attempt 


17 



to set down some characters in a situation and nothing else. 
If there is any beauty in it, it is a beauty of idea. I seem to 
have outgrown Cabell. The new method is far the more diffi- 
cult of the two. It reduces a single idea to a single sentence 
and does not allow one to write a whole chapter with it as 
Cabell does. I think I shall write some very good books in- 
deed. The next one won’t be good nor the next one, but about 
the fifth, I think will be above the average. 

I don’t care any more what people think of me. I’ll tell you 
how it happened. You will remember at Stanford that I went 
about being different characters. I even developed a theory 
that one had no personality in essence, that one was a reflec- 
tion of a mood plus the moods of other persons present. I 
wasn’t pretending to be something I wasn’t. For the moment 
I was truly the person I thought 1 was. 

Well, I went into the mountains and stayed two years. I was 
snowed in eight months of the year and saw no one except 
my two Airedales. There were millions of fir trees and the 
snow was deep and it was very quiet. And there was no one 
to pose for any more. You can’t have a show with no audi- 
ence. Gradually all the poses slipped off and when I came out 
of the hills I didn’t have any poses any more. It was rather 
sad, but it was far less trouble. 1 am happier than 1 have ever 
been in my life. 

My sister [Mary] is married to Bill Dekker and has two very 
beautiful children. They are the only children whom I have 
ever liked at all. They live in Los Angeles and enjoy them- 
selves. 

I don’t think I write very interesting letters any more. I 
have this pelican of a novel hanging about my neck and it is 
decomposing and bothering me about every hour of the day. 
I dream about it. I can’t enjoy a party because it is not done. 
I write two pages and destroy three. It is over-ambitious I 
think. 

I am engaged to a girl of whom I will say nothing at all 
because you will eventually meet her and I think you will 
like her because she has a mind as sharp and penetrating as 
your own. 

I think that is all. I hope you will not let a great time pass 
before answering, though I realize that there is nothing to 
answer. 


i8 


Sincerely, 

John 



To A. Grove Day 


2441 Fillmore Street 
San Francisco 
[December] 1929 

I am answering your letter immediately. 

I want to speak particularly of your theory of clean manu- 
scripts, and spelling as correct as a collegiate stenographer, 
and every nasty little comma in its place and preening of 
itself. “Manners,” you say it is, and knowing the “trade” and 
the “Printed Word.” But I have no interest in the printed 
word. I would continue to write if there were no writing and 
no print. I put my words down for a matter of memory. They 
are more made to be spoken than to be read. I have the 
instincts of a minstrel rather than those of a scrivener. There 
you have it. We are not of the same trade at all and so how 
can your rules fit me? When my sounds are all in place, I can 
send them to a stenographer who knows his trade and he can 
slip the commas about until they sit comfortably and he can 
spell the words so that school teachers will not raise their 
eyebrows when they read them. Why should I bother? There 
are millions of people who are good stenographers but there 
aren’t so many thousands who can make as nice sounds as I 
can. 

I must have misinformed you about my new book. I never 
never read Hemingway with the exception of The Killers. I 
have not lost the love for sound nor for pictures. Only I have 
tried to throw out the words that do not say anything. I don’t 
read much when I am working because novels have a way 
of going right on whether you are writing or not. You’ll be 
having dreams about it that wake you up in the night, and 
maybe you’ll be kissing some girl the way she expects it, and 
all the time your mind will be saying, “I’ll do the thing this 
way, and I’ll transpose these scenes.” A novel doesn’t stop at 
all when your pen is away. 

Next week maybe I’ll be moving to Los Angeles with Carol 
and we’ll have some kind of a little house on the outskirts and 


19 



you can come to see us. We haven’t much money but it’s very 
cheap to live out here. Maybe you’d like to settle near to us. 
I don’t like Stanford and never did. Prigs they are there and 
pretenders. Maybe you could get a part time job in the south 
and we could sit in front of a fire and talk, or lie on the beach 
and talk, or walk in the hills and talk. I’d like you to know 
Carol. She doesn’t write or dance or play the piano and she 
has very little of any soul at all. But horses like her and dogs 
and little boys and bootblacks and laborers. But people with 
souls don’t like her very much. 

Let me hear from you as soon as you can. 

John 


Later he was to write: 

“Remember the days when we were all living in 
Eagle Rock? As starved and happy a group as ever 
robbed an orange grove. I can still remember the 
dinners of hamburger and stolen avocados.” 


To Amasa Miller 


2741 El Roble Drive 
Eagle Rock, California 
[Early 1930] 

Dear Ted: 

I have been doing so many things that there has been 
no time to write. I moved down here with many furni- 
tures and then Carol and I got hitched which required 
some messing about and then there was a great deal to be 
done on this little house, painting and gardening and 
fixing of toilets which is always necessary in a tumbled 


20 



down house. Anyway, merry Christmas and so forth. 

By dint of a great deal of labor we have made quite a nice 
place of this. We pay only fifteen dollars a month for a thirty 
foot living room with a big stone fireplace, a bed room, a 
bathroom, kitchen and sleeping porch. It was a wreck when 
we found it, but it is the envy of all of our friends now. 

I have been working quite successfully. Find the need of a 
new title and am wild about it. I have been trying to get one 
and it is the hardest thing on earth. 

The sun is so warm down here it makes me feel very good. 
We live on a hill in a very sparsely inhabited place which is 
heavily wooded. The neighbors are good with the exception 
of one virago. We have a Belgian shepherd puppy, pure 
black, which is going to be a monster. And all of the time I 
am getting work done which makes me more happy than any 
of the other things. 

I hope to hear from you very soon and when I get this draft 
finished in triplicate I shall send one copy east for the usual 
criticism. I have already decided to make very definite 
changes so the criticism will not all be valid. 

sincerely 

John 


To Carl Wilhelmson 


Eagle Rock 
[Early 1930] 

Dear Carl: 

I do not know how long it is since I have written to you. 
Everything has been in a haze pretty much for the past three 
weeks. I have been working to finish this ms. and the thing 
took hold of me so completely that I lost track of nearly every- 
thing else. Now the thing is done. I started rewriting this 
week and am not going to let it rest. Also I have a title which 
gives me the greatest of pleasure. For my title I have taken 
one of the Vedic Hymns, the name of the hymn — 


21 



TO THE XJNKNOWN GOD 

You surely remember the hymn with its refrain at the end 
of each invocation “Who is the god to whom we shall offer 
sacrifice?” Don’t you think that is a good title? I am quite 
enthusiastic about it. 

Carol is a good influence on my work. I am putting five 
hours every day on the rewriting of this one and in the eve- 
nings I have started another [Dissonant Symphony]. I have 
the time and the energy and it gives me pleasure to work, and 
now I do not seem to have to fight as much reluctance to work 
as I used to have. The start comes much easier. The new book 
is just a series of short stories or sketches loosely and fool- 
ishly tied together. There are a number of little things I have 
wanted to write for a long time, some of them ridiculous and 
some of them more serious, and so I am putting them in a 
ridiculous fabric. It is not the series in Salinas at all. I shall 
not do that yet. I am too vindictive and harsh on my own 
people. In a few years I may have outgrown that. 

The dog is growing like a weed. He is three times as big as 
he was when we got him. You can see him grow from day to 
day. It has been quite cold here for the last few days with a 
good deal of rain and wind. But we have a big fire place in 
the house and the hill side behind us is covered with dead 
wood so we do not suffer. Indeed we enjoy it. You know, we 
really do not live in a city at all. We are out on a wooded and 
very sparsely-settled hill side. In three minutes you can 
climb to the top of the hill and be above everything and away 
from everything. It is much better than living in a city. 

Are you working, and if so on what? It must be wet as hell 
up there now. You have told me things about the rainy season 
up there and it seems to be mostly floods. Carol and I thought 
of taking a run up to Salinas but we got a plumbing bill for 
about thirty dollars and a stop was put to that. 

Duke is well and Maryon [Sheffield’s second wife] has been 
slightly unwell but has recovered. 

Let me know how you are and what you are working on. 

Sincerely 

John 


22 



To Amasa Miller 


Eagle Rock 

[1930] 

Dear Ted: 

Herewith enclosed is the ms. [To An Unknown God] which 
has been taking up so much time in the last year and a half. 
I know that it will not seem worth the efPort. I shall insure 
it heavily. Please let me hear from you immediately you 
receive it for I shall be anxious. There is a carbon but it is on 
inferior paper and is only held for a safeguard in case this 
is lost. 

If McBride should decide to take this tell them that I want 
a short foreword in which some mention of Toby Street 
should be made. I shall write that later. He has decided that 
he didn’t do as much on this as he at first thought he did. But 
such a foreword is really necessary. On the other book I 
asked for a dedication and they paid no attention. If the fore- 
word is refused they can go to hell. 

Sincerely 

John 


To Amasa Miller 


Eagle Rock 
May 28, 1930 

Dear Ted: 

Your letter was received this morning. I was very glad to 
hear of the advance in your legal prestige, for it must be very 
definitely that. It should raise your standing in the firm too 
if what you told me when you were out here is still true. 

Your news of McBrides came as a final touch to a week of 
disaster, a series of small and tragic incidents leading up to 


23 



the death of our dog Bruga who died in convulsions which 
seemed to be the result of poison. The rejection was nothing 
as compared to that. I wish you had been a bit more full about 
it though. What reason did they give for rejection if any? 
Really the rejection is a relief. I think McBride handled the 
last one as badly as it could well have been handled. A timid 
half-hearted advertising campaign which aimed at the 
wrong people by misdescribing the book, slowness, bad taste 
in jacket and blurb. Reviewers, after reading that it was an 
adventure story said, quite truly, that it was a hell of a bad 
adventure story. It was worse than that. It wasn’t an adven- 
ture story at all. Am I still held by that clause in the contract, 
to submit a third ms. to McBride, because I think I should 
attempt to break it if I were. I am not discouraged at all. 
Rather am I heartened. The Unknown God remains a pretty 
fair book and a very interesting book. 

Aren’t you rather sick of handling this stuff? You can turn 
it over to an agent any time you wish. When Day rejects it, 
I should like it to be submitted to Farrar and Rinehart. Miss 
Mirrielees of Stanford is a friend of Farrar and she recom- 
mended the firm to me very highly. Also Carl Wilhelmson 
who is here with us now, advises me to give them a try. 

I don’t think that John Day will accept this book. That firm 
has had such a tough time with beginners lately that they 
will probably be touchy. However this book has merits and 
should go fairly well in the right circles. 

Carol is well but very much broken up about Bruga. She 
never had a dog of her own before and she had become horri- 
bly fond of the little wretch. 

I solicit your attention. 

sincerely, 

John 


24 


To Amasa Miller 


Eagle Rock 

[1930] 

Dear Ted: 

I have just happened to think, if this God thing is ever 
published it will be in imitation of somebody or other. My 
chief reading has been pretty immaculate. I have re-read 
Xenophon and Herodotus and Plutarch and Marcus Aurelius 
and that is about all except Fielding, and yet I suppose I shall 
be imitating Hemingway whom I have never read. Both of us 
use the English language which is enough to draw down the 
wrath. And he started using it first too and I merely copied 
him. 

You ask about the new work. I have been gloating and 
sorrowing in my freedom. It seemed good to be without the 
curse of a literary foetus and at the same time I have had a 
feeling of lostness, much, I imagine, like that felt by an old 
soldier when he has been discharged from the army and has 
no one to tell him what time to brush his teeth. Bad as novels 
are, they do regulate our lives and give us a responsibility. 
While this book was being written I felt that I was responsi- 
ble for someone. If I stopped, the characters died. But now it 
is finished and the words of it are being put down in nice 
black letters on nice white paper, and the words are spelled 
correctly and the punctuation is sitting about in proper 
places, and most of the foolishness has been left on other 
sheets with blue marks through it. 

There is something I have wanted to ask you. Did 
McBride’s sell enough of the Cup to pay for its publication? 
I know that during the holidays every store sold out com- 
pletely and I wonder whether that had any effect. I hope they 
at least made a decent interest on their outlay. 

I’m twenty-eight years old now and I must have at least one 
book a year from now on if I can manage it. The next one will 
be short as can be and shouldn’t take as long as the last. This 
one [Dissonant Symphony] offered too many problems, not 
only psychological but anthropological, to be done quickly. I 


25 



hope the thing doesn’t read like a case history in an insane 
asylum. My father was very funny about it or did 1 tell you 
this? He was terribly interested from the first but quite dis- 
gusted at the end. After my careful work in filling the book 
with hidden symptoms of paranoia and showing that the 
disease had such a hold as to be incurable, my father ex- 
pected Andy to recover and live happily ever after. 

Carl Wilhelmson’s Wizard’s Farm is being published by 
Rinehart and Farrar this summer. I am very anxious to see 
it. It is a very good book. I think you saw parts of it when you 
were out here. I am over at the Sheffields’ house using their 
typewriter because Carol is plugging away on mine. 

jawn 


To Amasa Miller 


[Eagle Rock] 
August 6 [1930] 

Dear Ted: 

I have received Farrar’s rejection of my manuscript. It is 
terse and to the point. The man makes no bones about his 
rejection and I like that. But now that I have it, I do not know 
what to do next. I know nothing whatever about the market. 

Aren’t you getting sick of trundling this white elephant 
around? It is discouraging, isn’t it? Nobody seems to want my 
work. That doesn’t injure me but it must be having a definite 
effect on you that you are handling a dud. Let me know what 
you think about it. 

Our house here has been sold over our heads and we are 
going back north to the Grove. In many ways we are glad to 
leave the south although we are very fond of this house. It is 
pretty hot down here now and my mind seems more sluggish 
than it usually is. 


26 


affectionately 

john 



According to Carlton Sheffield John and Carol Stein- 
beck had done “such a beautiful job of rebuilding 
the Eagle Rock shack that the owner evicted them 
and gave it to his daughter as a wedding present.” 

They moved north to live rent free in the family 
three-room summer cottage in Pacific Grove on the 
Monterey Peninsula. This was the “home” to which 
Steinbeck kept returning throughout his life. His fa- 
ther gave them a monthly allowance of twenty-five 
dollars and Carol contributed her earnings from 
various jobs. 


To Amasa Miller 


[147-iith Street] 
[Pacific Grove] 
[Summer 1930] 

Dear Ted: 

Your letter and Harper’s rejection came this morning. 
From what you say, I hope the book can get a berth with 
Little Brown, but I have very small hope of its ever finding 
a home. On the other hand, the very fear publishers have of 
it might make it go. Sometimes something of that nature 
happens. 

I started to write to you yesterday and then went to the 
county fair instead to see the polo ponies and jumpers. That 
is one advantage to Pacific Grove and Monterey and Del 
Monte that should pull at you. Carol is secretary to the Secre- 
tary of the Chamber of Commerce of Monterey so I will ask 
her to send you bushels of literature on the peninsula. As a 
matter of fact I think it is a grand place. But in the way of 
business, the place is growing all the time. There are thir- 
teen fish canneries here, and within a couple of years the 
new breakwater is going in which will bring a greatly in- 
creased population because it will become a deep water port 
and hundreds of big ships will stop here. Look over the litera- 
ture and tell your wife that it is the most wonderful place in 
the world. This sounds like a prospectus. As a matter of fact. 


27 



I am very much emotionally tied up with the whole place. It 
has a soul which is lacking in the east. 

As you know, or do you, I finished a ms. labelled Dissonant 
Symphony. I sent it to this here now Scribner’s contest and 
have received not the slightest word from it. If I had a name, 
some firm might bring it out as a little book because it is a 
nice piece of work. It won’t get by Scribner because this 
contest will doubtless attract the best technicians in the 
country among which I am by no means numbered. 

I’m working on another novel [untitled — later destroyed] 
which will get some spleen out of my system. Bile that has 
been sickening me for years. 

Now I’m going out to the county fair again to see a polo 
game. Gawd, I wish you could be here to go with me. The 
horses are perfectly lovely. The insides of my legs itch for the 
saddle. I have not ridden for two years. 

Affectionately 

john 


Shortly afterwards, he added about Carol: 

“She grows visibly in understanding, in culture, in 
kindness and in erudition. She understands many 
things more quickly and more thoroughly than I do. 
And the old defiance, which came from young 
wounds and disappointments, is wearing off. She is 
grand. I would have great difiiculty in living without 
her now.” 


28 



To Carl Wilhelmson 


[Pacific Grove] 
[Late 1930] 

Dear Carl: 

And I had about thought you dead from the great silence. 
I was very glad to get your letter this morning. I have neither 
seen Midsummer Night nor seen it mentioned but I don’t get 
papers. Someone told me it was being extremely well re- 
ceived by critics. My God still goes without a master. I got a 
letter from Little Brown saying it wouldn’t sell but that they 
wanted to print it anyway and couldn’t this year. That is 
probably the usual bull. 

You are to remember that we can always put you up. I don’t 
imagine you want to live here but it is a good place. I have 
uncovered an unbelievable store of energy in myself. The 
raps of the last couple of years, i.e. the failure of the Cup, and 
the failure of my other things to make any impression, seem 
to have no effect on my spirit whatever. For that reason, I 
have high hopes for myself. Of course, the hundred page ms. 
flopped heavily. Just now I am busy on another one. Eventu- 
ally I shall be so good that I cannot be ignored. These years 
are disciplinary for me. 

Financially we are in a mess, but “spiritually” we ride the 
clouds. Nothing matters. 

Write soon and say what your plans are. 

Affectionately, 

John 


29 




To Carl Wilhelmson 


[Pacific Grove] 
[Late 1930] 

Dear Carl: 

It is a gloomy day; low gray fog and a wet wind contribute 
to my own gloominess. Whether the fog has escaped from my 
soul like ectoplasm to envelope the peninsula, or whether it 
has seeped in through my nose and eyes to create the gloom, 
I don’t know. Last night I read over the first forty pages of my 
new novel and destroyed them — the most unrelieved rot 
imaginable. It is very sad. 

We went to a party at John Calvin’s in Carmel last week. 
These writers of juveniles are the Jews of literature. They 
seem to wring the English language, to squeeze pennies out 
of it. They don’t even pretend that there is any dignity in 
craftsmanship. A conversation with them sounds like an af- 
ternoon spent with a pawnbroker. Says John Calvin, “I long 
ago ceased to take anything I write seriously.” I retorted, “I 
take everything I write seriously; unless one does take his 
work seriously there is very little chance of its ever being 
good work.” And the whole company was a little ashamed of 
me as though I had three legs or was an albino. 

I am very anxious to see a copy of Midsummer Night. 
When I can afford to, I will buy it. It was different with my 
own first novel. I outgrew that before I finished writing it. I 
very definitely didn’t want you to have it just as I didn’t want 
to have it myself. I shall be glad to arrive at an age where I 
don’t outgrow a piece of work as children outgrow shoes. 

This letter would seem to indicate that I am unhappy. Such 
is not the case. As long as I can work I shall be happy (except 
during moments of reflection) regardless of the quality of the 
work. That is a curious thing but true. 

There was a great fire last night. The Del Monte bath house 
burned to the ground. We got up and went to it and stood in 
the light and heat and gloried in the destruction. When Cato 
was shouting in the Roman Senate “Carthago delenda est,” 
I wondered whether in his mind there was not a vision of the 


30 



glorious fire it would make. Precious things make beautiful 
flames. The pyre that Savonarola made of all lovely and pro- 
found, wise and beautiful things of northern Italy must have 
been the finest fire the world has seen. I believe there is an 
account which says that when Caesar burned the great li- 
brary at Alexandria, the populace laughed and groaned in 
exquisite despair. 

You say you are striving for tenseness in your ms. I feel 
increasingly that you and I are the only ones of our entire 
acquaintance who have retained any literary responsibility 
and integrity. That is worth while regardless of the badness 
of my work. 

Modern sanity and religion are a curious delusion. Yester- 
day I went out in a fishing boat — out in the ocean. By looking 
over the side into the blue water, I could quite easily see the 
shell of the turtle who supports the world. I am getting more 
prone to madness. What a ridiculous letter this is; full of 
vaguenesses and unrealities. I for one and you to some extent 
have a great many of the basic impulses of an African witch 
doctor. 

You know the big pine tree beside this house? I planted it 
when it and I were very little; I’ve watched it grow. It has 
always been known as “John’s tree.” Years ago, in mental 
playfulness I used to think of it as my brother and then later, 
still playfully, I thought of it as something rather closer, a 
kind of repository of my destiny. This was all an amusing 
fancy, mind you. Now the lower limbs should be cut off be- 
cause they endanger the house. I must cut them soon, and I 
have a very powerful reluctance to do it, such a reluctance 
as I would have toward cutting live flesh. Furthermore if the 
tree should die, I am pretty sure I should be ill. This feeling 
I have planted in myself and quite deliberately I guess, but 
it is none the less strong for all that. 

I shall stop before you consider me quite mad. 

Sincerely, 

John 


31 



To Amasa Miller 


Pacific Grove 
[December 1930] 

Dear Ted: 

I think the manuscript [“Murder at Full Moon”] enclosed in 
this package is self explanatory. For some time now, I have 
been unhappy. The reason is that I have a debt and it is 
making me miserable. 

It is quite obvious that people do not want to buy the things 
I have been writing. Therefore, to make the money I need, I 
must write the things they want to read. In other words, I 
must sacrifice artistic integrity for a little while to personal 
integrity. Remember that when this manuscript makes you 
sick. And remember that it makes me a great deal sicker 
than it does you. 

Conrad said that only two things sold, the very best and the 
very worst. From my recent efforts, it has been borne to me 
that I am not capable of writing the very best yet. I have no 
doubt that I shall be able to in the future, but at present, I 
cannot. It remains to be seen whether I can write the very 
worst. 

I will tell you a little bit about the enclosed ms. It was 
written complete in nine days. It is about sixty two or three 
thousand words long. It took two weeks to type. In it I have 
included all the cheap rackets I know of, and have tried to 
make it stand up by giving it a slightly burlesque tone. No 
one but my wife and my folks know that I have written it, and 
no one except you will know. I see no reason why a nom de 
plume should not be respected and maintained. The nom de 
plume I have chosen is Peter Pym. 

The story holds water better than most, and I think it has 
a fairish amount of mystery. The burlesqued bits, which 
were put in mostly to keep my stomach from turning every 
time I sat down at the typewriter, may come out. 

Don’t let it make you too sick. It only took nine days to write 
and it didn’t have any effect on me whatever. I feel very badly 
about it, but I won’t be very happy anyway unless this debt 
32 



is paid. It isn’t a large debt but it is worrying me. 

Carol and another girl, both of wide experience, are open- 
ing a small publicity and advertising agency on the penin- 
sula. Come west soon and be their attorney. 

Let me hear from you when you can. And if you don’t get 
either card or present from me this Christmas, you will know 
that I am broke. I so warn you in advance. And I hope you 
have a good drunken Christmas. 

affectionately 

John 


While living in Eagle Rock, the Steinbecks had met 
another young writer, George Albee, with whom 
they exchanged frequent letters when they moved 
north. 


To George Albee 


Pacific Grove 
January 1931 

Dear George: 

I don’t remember whether or not I have written since 
Christmas. It doesn’t matter. We got your note. Thank you! 
Cards we did not send. Christmas broke us as it was, so that 
we must live nine days on two dollars and five cents. I think 
we can do it although the last few of those nine may find us 
living on rice. That doesn’t matter either. It’s rather amus- 
ing. The holidays were pretty exciting. We bought things and 
arranged them for all of my little nieces and nephews. Then 
Christmas eve we watched the workings of the god-given 
attitude, greed. It must be god-given because no other crea- 
ture except man possesses it. It is our instinct stronger than 
the sexual and developing only slightly less early than the 


33 




instinct to eat. The children grabbed things, tore off the pa- 
pers, and grabbed other things. They squalled if they were 
not all served at once. And they are not bad as greedy chil- 
dren. They are very normal. 

A letter from Maryon [Sheffield] this morning described a 
New Year’s party which must have been a counterpart of the 
one last year. What are you doing? I don’t feel like writing. 
I’ve been writing all day. 

John 


To George Albee 


Pacific Grove 

1931 

Dear George: 

Your letter this morning aroused a degree of argumenta- 
tiveness in me — a good sign that the great depression is about 
over. It strikes me that the world is not nearly as hostile as 
you are. You fight it so, George. I think it angers you because 
it pays so little attention to you. 

Fine artistic things seem always to be done in the face of 
difficulties, and the rocky soil, which seems to give the finest 
flower, is contempt. Don’t fool yourself, George, appreciation 
doesn’t make artists. It ruins them. A man’s best work is done 
when he is fighting to make himself heard, not when swoon- 
ing audiences wait for his paragraphs. An elevated train two 
doors away can have far more to do with a fine book than 
advance royalties or “an eager printer’s boy waiting in the 
hall.” If you don’t want to fight them you shouldn’t be writ- 
ing. One can force attention by making one’s work superb. 
Only practice can do that. 

Things like this hurt. My sister is staying over night. I say 
— “I have a new story. I wish you’d listen to it.” She says, “I’d 
love to.” The story is three weeks of thinking and working. 
I am proud of it. It makes me laugh because it is so funny. 
I can hardly read the end because it is so sad. Its characters 


34 



are my own children. And after supper, my sister walks up 
town and buys a Saturday Evening Post. I do not read her this 
story. It is silly. But why should I be angry when she would 
rather read a story whose value is $3,000 rather than one 
from my ragged notebook — in first draft and unsaleable. 
How can I blame her when I wouldn’t like to read my own 
first drafts if I hadn’t written them? It takes a great expert to 
judge a story in manuscript. You must remember that before 
you let your feelings be hurt. 

I think Carolyn would be a good wife. You don’t want your 
wife to think you a genius. No wife ever' could and it would 
be terrible if she did. I had a mistress once who thought I 
was. I was young enough to think I was too. I had to leave her 
in sheer boredom and disgust. It’s too onerous to be a genius. 

John 


To George Albee 


Pacific Grove 
February 27, 1931 

Excuse this kind of writing. It is the only kind I am capable 
of just now. A visit to the dentist this morning has battered 
my outlook. I meant to answer your last letter before this. In 
my last letter I had no intention of giving you advice. Advice 
is not my nature anyway. I blunder terribly, George. I go 
through life a grazing elephant, knocking down trees I am 
too stupid to consider formidable. My blindness and una- 
wareness terrify me in the few moments of light. I’m twenty- 
nine today, and I haven’t thought enough things or done 
enough things to be that old. This afternoon my parents will 
drive over to get us and take us to dinner. Dinner at Highland 
or Del Monte. The check will be not less than thirty dollars, 
and I can’t pay a dentist bill. There’s something silly about 
it. I don’t just know where it is, but it’s crazy some way. 


35 



In a rougher age I would have been eliminated I guess. A 
saber tooth would have grabbed me while I looked stupidly 
at pond lilies. 

When I was sixteen or seventeen I spent a goodly time 
looking in mirrors bemoaning my ugliness, turning my head 
to see whether some position or other wouldn’t soften the 
coarseness of my features. None of them did. The people I 
admired and envied! If I could only have looked forward I 
wouldn’t have minded so much. The beauty of the school, at 
thirty-two, — ^baldness and astigmatism and the gin which 
society forced him to drink, have made him look like a slen- 
der pig. The lovely girl I didn’t dare speak to because my lips 
were thick and my nose resembled a wen, is sagging under 
the chin and her eyes have the worried look of half-success- 
ful people who only buy at the best markets and who will 
mortgage the house rather than keep a car two years. 

Then after a while I stopped looking in mirrors. It was 
safer. I didn’t see myself for a number of years, and when I 
finally did look again, it was a stranger I saw, and I didn’t 
care one way or another what he looked like. 

This was begun some days ago. It probably doesn’t mean 
anything. I am having trouble with my manuscript. Most of 
my troubles arise in something like that. Also I have a tooth- 
ache, two huge fever blisters, and the itch of departing novo- 
caine. These are enough to disrupt any philosophy. In addi- 
tion — this paper which was guaranteed to take ink, didn’t 
very well. I feel peeled of my skin and the nerve ends quiver- 
ing in the air. 

I’m having a devil of a time with my new book. It just won’t 
seem to come right. Largeness of character is difficult. Never 
deal with an Olympian character. I think better times will 
come to me pretty soon. March is a curious month for my 
family. Every disaster of every kind — death, sickness, finan- 
cial stress, during the last two generations of my family, has 
occurred in March. My mother goes through the month with 
her teeth set, fully believing it is an evil month for us. If a 
March passes without evil she celebrates. 

Aren’t you ever coming up again? This is the grand time 
of the year, and you didn’t even see the coast country. It is the 
most fantastic place. We have no car now, but I drive my 
folks places. They are enjoying it so much. 


36 


[unsigned] 



To George Albee 


[Pacific Grove] 
[Spring] 1931 

Dear George; 

I have been filled with a curious cloying despair. I haven’t 
heard a word from any of my manuscripts for over three 
months. It is nerve wracking. I would welcome rejections far 
more than this appalling silence. 

My new novel slumbers. I doubt myself. This is a very 
critical time. 

Carol’s business is growing nicely. She gets prettier all the 
time. I’m more in love with her than I ever was. Sometimes 
I waken in the night with the horrible feeling that she is 
gone. I shouldn’t want to live if she were. 

I wish you would come up. There are so many things I want 
to talk to you about. 

We are just as broke as ever. More so, if that is possible. 
Money would probably kill me as too rich air would. 

I shan’t send this today. I haven’t a stamp and probably I 
shall want to write some more tomorrow. 

John 


To Amasa Miller 


[Pacific Grove] 
[June 1931] 

Dear Ted: 

I had your letter this morning. Your house in the country 
at the place the name of which I could not read, sounds 
charming indeed. This country is becoming a desert. The ten 
dry years are on again and if they continue very much longer 
we will be conserving water. The usual dejection is falling 


37 



over the country people and they are making plans to move. 
The farmer is the most chicken-headed of humans. Let one 
man succeed in a crop and the whole Valley puts in that crop 
and floods the market while there is a shortage of the thing 
they have cut out. 

Things are the same with me. I am working on two novels, 
not simultaneously but a few months on each. I don’t know 
how long I can hold out now. Universal rejections are bound 
to induce a kind of a mental state, but that I can overcome 
if only I can keep away from the successful paper pulp boys. 
Financially I should have been dead long ago, but I’m not. 
Things go on and I am not in jail. I live on twenty-five dollars 
a month now. Carol of course, supports herself and puts 
twenty-five in the pot every month so we have fifty for ex- 
penses. And we manage. I thought in writing the murder rot 
that I was doing a fairly sure thing, but obviously I was not. 
I think your plan to turn it over to an agent rather a good one. 
It would keep your hands clean anyway. I have completely 
lost hope in the other two things. I think they might as well 
be yanked out of circulation. Apparently they make no im- 
pression at all and they are wasting both your time and that 
of the publishers to whom they are submitted. Curiously 
enough their failure does not make much difference to the 
present work. The God must have been to ten publishers by 
now and has only received a decent note from one. That is 
pretty fair indication of its appeal. I don’t know much what 
to do. Mostly I don’t think about it if I can help it. 

Have you completely given up your plan of coming west? 
You have not mentioned it for a long time. 

Please don’t let such a long time elapse before your next 
letter. It is more disheartening by far than the rejections. If 
I weren’t so damned pig-headed I’d quit this bosh and go to 
work with a shovel. 

affectionately. 

[unsigned] 


38 



To Amasa Miller 


[Pacific Grove] 

[1931] 

Dear Ted: 

I remembered some things I wanted to ask you. First — does 
McBride still hold the copyright on the Cup and what ar- 
rangement did they make for the disposal of the extra copies 
and what is the chance of acquiring that copyright without 
buying it? 

Second — ^by now you must know or have some strong con- 
viction about the Unknown God. Do you honestly think it has 
the least chance in the world? Do you think it worth while 
to resubmit to John Day as they suggested or was that bull on 
their part? Wouldn’t it be a load off your shoulders if you put 
the whole caboodle with an agent? I wouldn’t mind. It must 
be rather disheartening to you to collect my rejection slips. 
Carl Wilhelmson recommends Mavis McIntosh of McIntosh 
8 e Otis at 18 East 41st Street, if you want to unload the stuff. 
His name should be used. 

Third — on what grounds was the murder story rejected? 
Was it the sloppiness of it or just that it wasn’t a good enough 
story? Do you think there is the least chance of selling it? Are 
you discouraged about the whole business? Have these rejec- 
tions carried any editorial interest at all? 

I know it is hard to write when you don’t know what I want 
to know. Rejection follows rejection. Haven’t there ever been 
encouraging letters? Perhaps an agent with a thorough 
knowledge of markets would see that the mss. were not 
marketable at all and would return them on that ground. You 
see the haunting thought comes that perhaps I have been 
kidding myself all these years, myself and other people — ^that 
I have nothing to say or no art in saying nothing. It is two 
years since I have received the slightest encouragement and 
that was short lived. 

I shall finish at least one novel this year. It will probably 
be better thaji the others. I am leaving the long fine book for 
a while to do a shorter one. The big book should take a num- 


39 



ber of years. It is a fairly original plan (the new book) and 
quite a vital story or really series of stories [ The Pastures of 
Heaven], 

I guess that’s all. Will you please write and answer the 
questions though? You must understand how anxious I am. 

Affectionately, 

John 


Ted Miller followed the suggestion and delivered 
the unsold manuscripts to the literary agency of 
Mavis McIntosh and Elizabeth Otis. Steinbeck’s re- 
lationship with this firm was to last for the rest of 
his life — almost forty years — and is documented by 
more than six hundred letters. 


To George Albee 


Pacific Grove 
May 1931 

Dear George: 

Last night we went berserk and bought a quarter of a 
pound of wonderful jasmine tea. It is the grandest stuff I 
have ever tasted, and I have fully made up my mind to give 
up liquor in all forms in its favor. The strawberries are be- 
ginning to ripen and great excitement reigns in this 
household. 

This week I had a letter from Mavis McIntosh, and, if I had 
not known her method of doing business, I should be very 
suspicious of her boundless enthusiasm for my mss. How- 
ever I am fond of anyone who can raise my spirits as she has 
raised mine. And the personal interest evinced makes me 
think that she will actually try to find a publisher for me. 

40 



Also I will not be cut off from communication any more for 
she will let me know whether anything has happened. Have 
you sent mss. to her, too? I hope you have. Carl Wilhelmson 
recommended me and Carl is one of her especial pets. [Albee 
took his advice and sent samples of his work to McIntosh and 
Otis. He too became a client.] I am rewriting one more short 
story to send out and then I shall go back to The Pastures of 
Heaven. Truly I was beginning to get quite dejected. You can 
talk about my having seen print, but you forget that I am five 
years older than you are and that nearly three years have 
gone by since I have had the least encouraging word. When 
she sees your work she will drop me like a hot coal. Anyway, 
it’s very nice, isn’t it? 

Tillie is well and nearly handsome again. Sometime after 
she has had puppies for me to watch, I shall write some 
stories about Tillie. 

Twice a year my father [Monterey County treasurer] has to 
take money to the State Treasury and he has to do it in per- 
son. It amounts to something over a million dollars this time. 
Of course it is only a certified check so we won’t need an 
armoured car. A couple of weeks ago he drove over, and 
when I went out to see him, he had a deputy sheriff with a 
shotgun and a sub-machine gun with him and the back seat 
of the car was full of bonds. It was terribly exciting. It is the 
first time he has done that and I think he was scared. I would 
have been. He won’t ever do it again. A hundred thousand 
dollars in unregistered bonds is qviite a temptation to a young 
highwayman. 

That’s all. Let me know when you hear from Miss McIn- 
tosh. 

Affectionately, 

(Carol is wildly excited) 
John 


41 



To Mavis McIntosh 


Pacific Grove 
May 8, 1931 

Dear Miss McIntosh; 

Thank you for your letter. I am sorry I must answer it from 
memory; Tillie Eulenspiegel, the Airedale, has puppies, as 
sinful a crew as ever ruined rugs. Four of them found your 
letter and ate all of it but the address. I should imagine they 
were awed by the address if I had not learned that they hold 
nothing in reverence. At present they are out eating each 
other, and I must try to remember the things I should answer. 

I have no readable carbon of Murder at Full Moon. If you 
think it advisable, I shall have one made. The quicker I can 
forget the damned thing, the happier I shall be. 

To An Unknown God should have been a play. It was con- 
ceived as a play and thought of and talked of as such for 
several years. But I have no knowledge of the theater nor any 
knowledge of dramatic technique. Does one find a collabora- 
tor in such a case? I didn’t know the novel dragged, and I 
thought I was fairly aware of its faults. It is out of proportion 
because it was thought of as two books. The story changes 
tempo and style because it changes speed and spirit. I tried 
to fit the style to the subject, that is all. I should like to write 
it again. 

In a few days I’ll send you some short stories. They are 
amusing, but I’m afraid unsaleable. I wrote them to amuse 
myself. Perhaps it would only waste your time to send them. 

The present work [The Pastures of Heaven] interests me 
and perhaps falls in the “aspects” theme you mention. There 
is, about twelve miles from Monterey, a valley in the hills 
called Corral de Tierra. Because I am using its people I have 
named it Las Pasturas del Cielo. The valley was for years 
known as the happy valley because of the unique harmony 
which existed among its twenty families. About ten years 
ago a new family moved in on one of the ranches. They were 
ordinary people, ill-educated but honest and as kindly as any. 
In fact, in their whole history I cannot find that they have 

42 



committed a really malicious act nor an act which was not 
dictated by honorable expediency or out-and-out altruism. 
But about the Morans there was a flavor of evil. Everyone 
they came in contact with was injured. Every place they 
went dissension sprang up. There have been two murders, a 
suicide, many quarrels and a great deal of unhappiness in 
the Pastures of Heaven, and all of these things can be traced 
directly to the influence of the Morans. So much is true. 

I am using the following method. The manuscript is made 
up of stories, each one complete in itself, having its rise, 
climax and ending. Each story deals with a family or an 
individual. They are tied together only by the common local- 
ity and by the contact with the Morans. Some of the stories 
are very short and some as long as fifteen thousand words. I 
thought of combining them with that thirty-thousand word 
ms. called Dissonant Symphony to make one volume. I won- 
der whether you think this is a good plan. I think the plan at 
least falls very definitely in the aspects of American life cate- 
gory. I have finished several and am working on others 
steadily. They should be done by this fall. 

That is all I can think of. If there was more to be answered 
it is in the stomachs of those khaki-colored devils in the 
garden. They are eating the fence now. The appetite of a 
puppy ranks with Grand Canyon for pure stupendousness. 

I am very grateful to you for your interest and to Carl 
Wilhelmson for his recommendation. He, by the way, is so 
abjectly melancholy that I imagine he is either in love or 
very happy about something. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


43 



To Amasa Miller 


Pacific Grove 

1931 

Dear Ted; 

I don’t like to be so completely cut off from you as I have 
been during the last few months. If you are commuting from 
the country I know why you haven’t written, but I should 
have written oftener. 

Life goes on here. 1 continue writing even more than usual. 
At my death, my estate will consist of many bales of paper, 
most of it written only on one side. It should be worth a pretty 
sum. 

My adventures with McIntosh and Otis have been amus- 
ing. Said house pursues a policy of flattery. At the request of 
Miss Otis I have dispatched a number of the short stories. 
They have been hailed, appreciated and sent back post paid. 
Have not heard from Miss McIntosh for some time, but I 
guess my novels are saddening her. Apparently she can’t 
even sell my detective story. I don’t quite understand their 
policy, but obviously they try to sell the things. Whatever 
became of the ms. unfortunately named Dissonant Sym- 
phony? I am getting along pretty well with the companion 
piece — really some very good stories in it, and interesting to 
do. 

Tillie has had distemper but we are pulling her out of it 
nicely. The medicines and shots in the neck ruined us 
though. Having lost Bruga partly through carelessness, we 
weren’t going to take any chances with Tillie. 

I am daily expecting to receive both of my novels back. 
That will be a blow but I don’t see how I can escape it. My 
work is improving, I think — and eventually I shall be able to 
dispose of all of it, but this is rather a long period of waiting, 
don’t you think? Joe Hamilton [his uncle] writes that some of 
his friends who were making ten thousand a year can’t sell 
a flfty-dollar story. What chance have I then? Luckily such 
considerations do not often assail me. 

We have had hot weather here if you can imagine it. But 

44 



today the fog has come in and we are back to normal. My 
garden is so lovely that I shall hate ever to leave it. I have 
turtles in the pond now and water grasses. You would love 
the yard. We have a vine house in back with ferns and tuber- 
ous begonias. We have a large cineraria bed in bloom and the 
whole yard is alive with nasturtiums. 

I feel very sad. It is the feeling of impending doom when 
one is comfortable and in health. I guess it is an apprehen- 
sion of the jealous gods. One can’t be as happy as I have been 
for very long. There’s a law against it. I have worked hard 
and enjoyed my work and it is the punishment of man to hate 
his work. Sooner or later I will have work that I hate. 

That’s all. Drop me a line from the train if you haven’t any 
other time. I’m jealous of your isolation. 

Affectionately, 

John 


To Mavis McIntosh 


Pacific Grove 
August i8, 1931 

Dear Miss McIntosh: 

I think I told you in an earlier letter that the imperfections 
of the Unknown God had bothered me ever since I first sub- 
mitted the book for publication. In consequence of this un- 
easiness, your announcement of the book’s failure to find a 
publisher is neither unwelcome nor unpleasant to me. If I 
were sure of the book, I should put it aside and wait for some 
other story to gain it an entrance. But 1 know its faults. I 
know, though, that the story is good. I shall rewrite it im- 
mediately. Whether my idea of excellence coincides with 
editors’ ideas remains to be seen. Certainly I shall make no 
effort to “popularize” the story. 

I have a carbon of the Unknovm God. It will not be neces- 
sary to return the original. 

Mr. Miller will hand you a manuscript of about thirty thou- 
sand words [Dissonant Symphony]. It is an impossible length 


45 




for marketing. I had thought perhaps it could be included 
under one cover with the ten stories which will make up The 
Pastures of Heaven. The name is bad, but that can be readily 
changed. Will you let me know your opinion of this plan? 

The Pastures stories proceed rapidly, perhaps too rapidly. 
They should be ready to submit by Christmas. 

Thank you for your help. I am an unprofitable client. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


To George Albee 


[Pacific Grove] 

[1931] 

Dear George; 

The Shef&elds left last Friday or Saturday I guess it was. 
We had an awfully good time and I enjoyed having them. 
Now I wonder when you will be coming up. Have been ex- 
pecting to hear every day. 

As to the shoes — ^people in our circumstances can’t be giv- 
ing each other presents. It would be ridiculous. Too much 
food could be bought with the money and we must hold out 
in the matter of food. If we don’t go low on it we may manage 
to do the thing we want to. It’s a kind of endurance contest 
at best. So forget the shoes, but thank you for the thought. 

I learn that all of my manuscripts have been rejected three 
or four times since I last heard. It is a nice thing to know that 
so many people are reading my books. That is one way of 
getting an audience. 

Hurry and come up or at least let me know when you are 
coming. We are anxious to see you. I pulled all Tillie’s whisk- 
ers out to strengthen their growth. She looks like hell now. 
We are ashamed to be seen with her. 

Write soon. 


46 


John 



To George Albee 


Pacific Grove 

[1931] 

Dear George; 

This is the day between — one ms. finished yesterday and 
the next one not quite hatched. It will be by tomorrow 
though. [He is referring to the separate stories in The Pas- 
tures of Heaven.] This is a good day to write letters. 

I’m pretty happy over these stories. That is because they 
aren’t finished, I guess. 

It isn’t unusual that you worry about my financial future. 
Everyone I have ever known very well has been concerned 
that I would eventually starve. Probably I shall. It isn’t im- 
portant enough to me to be an obsession. I have starved and 
it isn’t nearly as bad as is generally supposed. Four days and 
a half was my longest stretch. Maybe there are pains that 
come later. Personally I think terror is the painful part of 
starvation. 


Thirty years later he had not forgotten. 

“Tonight I am going to cook my old Pacific Grove 
Starvation Special,” he wrote his wife Elaine in 
Texas. “I hope it is as good as I remember it but I 
must remember that I was awful hungry when it 
tasted good. I won’t even tell you what it is made of. 
You have enough problems without nausea.” 


You are sanguine about my inheritance. There will be 
nothing, you know. I’ll be lucky if I have this house. No — 
money is not for us. Other people get Phelan Awards [an 
award of money given in California for writing]. Probably 
because they want them badly. My one long chance was to 
have married money and I didn’t do that. I have come to be 
a complete fatalist about money. Even the law of averages 
doesn’t hold with me. Any attempt to get me any kind of an 
award is pre-doomed to failure. Furthermore I seriously 
doubt that my brand of literature will ever feed me. And I 


47 



haven’t sense enough to worry about it. If eventually I have 
to go to work digging ditches, I shall have had my chance. 

I read only a page or so of Look Homeward, Angel. The 
pages I read seemed to be a hodgepodge of quotations. I shall 
read all of it sometime since you recommend it so highly. I 
was somewhat deterred from reading it by the overwhelm- 
ing praise of Sinclair Lewis. 

It is a gray day with little dusty spurts of rain. A good day 
for inwardness. Only I doubt that I have many guts of my 
own to look inward at. That is one of the great troubles with 
objective writing. A constant practice of it leaves one no 
material for introspection. If my characters are sad or happy 
I reflect their emotions. I have no personal nor definitive 
emotions of my own. Indeed, when there is no writing in 
progress, I feel like an uninhabited body. I think I am only 
truly miserable at such times. 

Carol is probably going to work next week. [Her advertising 
agency had closed.] She looks forward to it. It is not good for 
her to be housed here with me all day. I am too impatient of 
movements or noise in the house. And it is such a small 
house. 

You see, my letters are bound to be tiresome because I can 
talk of nothing but the work I am doing. Monomania! 

This probably sounds like a doleful letter and it shouldn’t 
be because I don’t feel at all doleful. 

John 


To George Albee 


[Pacific Grove] 

[1931] 

Monday 

Dear George: 

Exciting things — ^yesterday we bought two mallard ducks 
for the garden. The drake has an irridescent green head. 
They are beautiful. They swim in the pond and eat the bugs 
in the garden. We are pretty excited. They cost our amuse- 

48 



ment quota for this month but are worth it. Named Aqua and 
Vita. Carol hated to go to work this morning and leave them 
because they are so interesting. They do not ever step on the 
plants — just edge between on their big clumsy feet. They 
very promptly caught and ate the goldfish but we don’t care. 
It’s nice to have things like ducks. We won’t ever have to feed 
them for there are bugs enough in the garden to keep them 
going. You never saw anything so beautiful in all the green- 
ness of our garden as these luxurious ducks. 

I have had a couple of fallow days — absolute disgust and 
lack of faith in my own work and inability to go on. This 
nearly always happens when a book is nearly done. I shall 
force it this morning. And the story I am working on charms 
me more than any of the others. I wish to heaven you could 
read these things. I need a little encouragement I guess. The 
other day I asked a young friend to read one and he felt that 
he should criticise because that was what one did to a ms. So 
he tore a pretty nice story to pieces and showed me how to 
do it. It was funny because he hit all the places which are 
simply matters of opinion and tore up some of the nicest 
writing I have ever done. Such things reassure one in the 
matter of believing critics. 

I wish you could see Aqua and Vita. They are very very 
charming. Read 25 by Beverly Nichols last night and am still 
a little sick. 

Sincerely 

John 


To George Albee 


Pacific Grove 

[1931] 

Dear George: 

It has rained a great deal. Now it is Monday morning, and, 
after a Sunday of dissipation I am faced with work. It’s a gray 
morning. There is only the key story to do. Here is a nice and 
appropriate thing. The ducks were mallard — green irrides- 


49 



cent heads, russet of breast— pale blue wings and orange 
feet, beautiful birds. But they muddied the pond and pulled 
up lobelias. Also I was flat broke and had no way of finishing 
my ms. So I sold the ducks to buy paper for the stories. I wish 
the stories were as beautiful as the ducks. 

Yesterday we indulged in the only luxury in months. We 
bought and charged a chess board and pieces. Two dollars. 
It will eat up the winter evenings. 

One thing I am sorry for. These stories will go out without 
any expert reading. I wanted Miss McIntosh to read them, 
but I can’t get to Palo Alto and she can’t come here yet and 
I can’t wait. I have too many stories to write. Queer about this 
rush — ^isn’t it? It’s as though I knew my days are limited. 

There — ^it’s raining again. Our garden is most charming in 
the rain. To get back to ms. Sometimes I think these stories 
are very fine. There’s material for ten novels in these stories. 
That was the method, you remember. In the last story of 
thirty pages I covered three generations. You can see how 
packed they must be. I should send them to you and to Duke 
if I had time. I’m fairly convinced that I can’t get a publisher 
for them. They make too much use of the reader and readers 
don’t like to be used. 

I guess I’ll go back to the Unknown God. That title will 
have to be changed. Because the story will be cut to pieces 
and the pieces refitted and changed. It won’t be much the 
same story. 

There is no companionship of any kind here. Carol and I 
are marooned. This is probably a good thing. I throw myself 
into work. How are monies? Our poverty is tiresome, but I 
can see no change in it. Only work. I must cut down two trees 
for fire wood and that will take some time. 

Sincerely 

John 


50 



To Amasa Miller 


[Pacific Grove] 
[December 1931] 

Dear Ted: 

After the silence of ages, I have three letters from you all 
on the same day: To you I say Merry Christmas and Happy 
1932. 1 found several things in your letters which were very 
amusing. The first is the complete belief of M. and O. that I 
conceal masterpieces. I have written to them denying this. In 
the south I have a friend who harbors an immense admira- 
tion for my work in spite of the fact that he has seen very 
little of it [George Albeej. He wrote to them telling them about 
my bales of mss. and they demanded it. I sent them all I had 
which they, with great dispatch, sent back to me. I am con- 
cealing nothing except a few little things too dirty to print 
and some stories written for Toby Street’s kids. You see I took 
two years to write the Cup, a year and a half to write the 
Unknown God. In the last year and a half I have written the 
Dissonant Symphony, the detective story, six short stories, 
part of a novel that is too huge for me just now and The 
Pastures of Heaven. About a hundred and seventy-five thou- 
sand finished words since the end of the Unknown God. 
Where then are the masterpieces? Before the Cup, the stories 
are so feeble and childish that I destroyed them all as a 
matter of course. If you should see them again please tell 
them that the things they are seeing are really the best I can 
do. If there’s nothing in them then there’s nothing in me and 
they’d better give me up as a “writer”. 

The Pastures of Heaven I sent off last Saturday. It should 
be there by the time you receive this. If the reader will take 
them for what they are, and will not be governed by what a 
short story should be (for they are not short stories at all, but 
tiny novels) then they should be charming, but if they are 
judged by the formal short story, they are lost before they 
ever start. I am extremely anxious to hear the judgment be- 
cause of anything I have ever tried, I am fondest of these and 
more closely tied to them. There is no grand writing nor any 



grand theme, but I love the stories very much. 

Carl Wilhelmson is married. I had his announcement this 
morning. Is your divorce desirable? I mean will it make a 
demand of alimony on you? I hope you get it without scars. 

I’ve been working like a dog on this last ms. Now I shall 
take a little time off before starting the next. There are a 
number of silly little stories that have been bothering my 
dreams for some time. I’ll get them off my chest without 
injuring my rest at all. 

We’re going to S. J. [San Jos^;] for Christmas. Toby and 
Grove Day are coming down next weekend to celebrate. Toby 
with his guitar. The whole bunch of us will probably get 
homed like owls. Toby gets to singing so loudly that the po- 
lice interfere. Were you at the beach with us the night he 
nearly drowned in his soup? I heard a gurgling noise beside 
me and there was Toby with his nose submerged in his soup 
snoring it in and gradually drowning. I have a feeling you 
were there. 

Anyway don’t please keep aloof so long next time. 

affectionately, 

John 


To Mavis McIntosh 


Pacific Grove 
January 25, 1932 

Dear Miss McIntosh: 

This letter may be pertinent if Miss Phillips [Vice-Presi- 
dent of William Morrow and Company] is reading the novel 
To an Unknown God. I have no intention of trying to patch 
it up. It would surely show such surgery especially since it 
was finished nearly two years ago. I shall cut it in two at the 
break and work only at the first half, reserving the last half 
for some future novel. With the material in the first half I 
shall make a new story, one suggested by recent, and, to me, 
tremendous events. 


52 




Do you remember the drought in Jolon that came every 
thirty-five years? We have been going through one identical 
with the one of 1880. Gradually during the last ten years the 
country has been dying of lack of moisture. This dryness has 
peculiar efPects. Diseases increase, people are subject to 
colds, to fevers and to curious neirvous disorders. Crimes of 
violence increase. The whole people are touchy and nervous. 
I am writing at such length to try to show you the thing that 
has just happened. This winter started as usual — no rain. 
Then in December the thing broke. There were two weeks of 
downpour. The rivers overflowed and took away houses and 
cattle and land. I’ve seen decorous people dancing in the 
mud. They have laughed with a kind of crazy joy when their 
land was washing away. The disease is gone and the first 
delirium has settled to a steady jubilance. There will be no 
ten people a week taken to asylums from this county as there 
were last year. Anyway, there is the background. The new 
novel will be closely knit and I can use much of the material 
from the Unknown God, but the result will be no rewritten 
version. 

Perhaps it will be as well to let Miss Phillips see this plan. 
It will give her a better idea of what to expect. 

Your letter was encouraging. Thank you. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


To Amasa Miller 


[Pacific Grove] 
February 16 [1932] 

Dear Ted: 

Thank you for doing all that work. It was a lot of trouble. 
Miss Me. dismissed the ms. [The Pastures of Heaven] by say- 
ing the form doesn’t interest her, but it may interest someone 
else. The Pastures has begun its snaggy way. Morrow won’t 
publish as a first novel, but will if a more closely integrated 


53 



work can precede it. Publishers are afraid of short stories 
unless the writer of them has a tremendous name. And so I 
presume that the Pastures will go the way of all the others. 
Miss Me. was non-committal about it. Meanwhile I work at 
the Unknown God. I have changed the place, characters, 
time, theme, and thesis and name so maybe it won’t be much 
like the first book. It’s good fun though. 

I wonder you don’t lose faith in my future. Everyone else 
does. For myself, I haven’t brains enough to quit. Maybe you 
haven’t brains enough to get out from under the wreck. 
Thirty years hence I’ll still be working. I am very happy 
when I’m working. 

Have McBride’s relaxed their grip on that copyright? 

I’m pretty damn sick of my consistent failure. Everyone 
says nice things and no one buys my books. Wurra — wurra. 
M. and O. have been kind and have expended lots of stamps 
on me. I wonder how soon they’ll get sick of it. 

Please write more often. 

Affectionately, 

John 


Eleven days later, on his thirtieth birthday, big news 
came. 

“M. and O. wired today,” he wrote Ted Miller. “They 
have palmed off the Pastures on somebody. I don’t 
know any more about it because I have only the 
telegram.” 

A few days later he had more details. 


54 



To George Albee 


Pacific Grove 
[March] 1932 

Dear George: 

The Pastures has been curiously fortunate. Cape and 
Smith accepted it with some enthusiasm within three days 
of its submission to them. According to M. & O. they showed 
a nice enthusiasm and intend to feature it on their fall list. 
I am very glad, more for my folks’ sake than for my own. 
They love it so much. Dad’s shoulders are straighter for it 
and mother beams. I am no longer a white elephant, you see. 
I am justified in the eyes of their neighbors. It is very good. 
I received the telegram on my birthday. It was nice of Miss 
O. [Elizabeth Otis] to wire. If this firm will only allow me a 
dedication to my parents, they will be extremely happy. 

I was going rapidly and well on the new book, but this little 
encouragement is bound to have a stimulating effect. In ad- 
dition Carol has a job — $50.00 a month. She is deliriously 
happy. She’s wanted a job so badly. 

Sincerely, 

John 


55 




. . scared 
and boastful 
andliumble...” 




'V'V.Sj''/ 



Carol Steinbeck’s job was in the laboratory of a 
friend who was already exerting a vital influence on 
Steinbeck’s life and thinking: the marine biologist, 
philosopher, and ecologist, Edward F. Ricketts. 
Steinbeck had met him in 1930 and had passed many 
hours on Cannery Row in Monterey at his Pacific 
Biological Laboratory which collected and dis- 
tributed West Coast biological specimens to institu- 
tions and individuals throughout the country. This 
laboratory was to become the background for sev- 
eral of Steinbeck’s stories and novels, and Ricketts 
himself, under varying aliases, would appear as a 
character in them. He and Steinbeck collaborated 
on Sea of Cortez and maintained a close friendship 
till Ricketts’s death in 1948. 



O George Albee 


Pacific Grove 
[March] 1932 

Dear George: 

Thank you for sending the letter, you see I have nothing 
but the telegram and I have been afraid the thing had fallen 
through. The letter reassured me of its acceptance but was 
also slightly redolent of horse shit. If you believe all the nice 
things then you ought to believe all the nasty things that will 
be said later, and then they cancel each other out. 

Carol is working now and loves it. She has two rattlesnakes 
and about 200 white rats to love. She introduced Tillie to the 
rats and they ignored each other. 


59 



I don’t know why the publication of a book should impress 
you. I’ve met a number of people who publish books and 
judging from most of them, the fact of publication seems to 
make a horse’s ass of a man. So forget about it. I’ve never 
heard of a book that made any money and I have no desire 
to speak before women’s clubs. Waiting for these contracts 
has stopped my work a little, that’s all. And you must remem- 
ber that the moment Mr. Ballou buys a book it’s his property 
and he has to think it wonderful or he can’t sell it. That’s the 
first principle of salesmanship: believe in your product no 
matter how rotten it is. 

That’s all 

Affectionately 

John 


Robert O. Ballou, former literary editor of the 
Chicago Daily News, had joined the publishing firm 
of Cape and Smith a few years before. It had a distin- 
guished roster of writers who were also published by 
the parent firm of Jonathan Cape in England. In 1932 
company reorganization caused the firm to be 
rebaptized Jonathan Cape and Robert Ballou, Inc. It 
was at this point that contracts with Steinbeck for 
The Pastures of Heaven and two subsequent novels 
were signed. 


To Amasa Miller 


[Pacific Grove] 
March 14, 1932 

Dear Ted: 

Your letter came this morning for which I thank you. I 
have read and signed these new contracts. Naturally they 
seem good to me. A crust would have seemed good. Ballou’s 

60 



letter was friendly. He seemed over-impressed with the book 
but that is probably his method of dealing with clients. From 
all I can learn (which is little) the house is a good, conserva- 
tive old one. I should have gone on working for twenty years, 
but I must admit a little encouragement is a lifting thing for 
the spirit. I am about a third finished with the first draft of 
the new version of the Unknown God. I think I like it pretty 
well this time. 

Darn it, I thought I had finished and mailed this. I just 
found it in a book. I’m sorry. My sister is up from Los Angeles 
and yesterday she presented me with a nice pair of riding 
breeches so I can ride with her. We are going out tomorrow. 
I’ll probably be awfully sore but it will be good to cinch a 
beastie again. It must be over two years since I have had my 
feet in stirrups. A few months ago, after slight indulgence, I 
rode a colt bareback and unbridled, me in tweeds. If I’d been 
sober I’d have been tossed on my can but being pickled, I did 
a first rate rodeo and only came off when we went under a 
bush. The colt was trying to crawl into a gopher hole. 

Affectionately, 

John 


To George Albee 


Pacific Grove 
[March] 1932 

Dear George: 

You’ll be anxious to hear about these contracts. They seem 
to me a little crazy. There are three contracts, one for The 
Pastures of Heaven and one each for two later mss which are 
simply named by their succession. The publisher binds him- 
self to publish the things sight unseen. If McIntosh hadn’t 
assured me that he was a good business man I should think 
he was an angel trying to put some money on art. McIntosh 
says I will be allowed a drawing account against even the 
unwritten books. I don’t imagine I shall take advantage of it. 

61 



She also says that, since Jonathan Cape is an English firm, 
I am practically guaranteed English publication. Now 
doesn’t the thing seem a little bit crazy? 

All of this sounds impossible to me of course. Nothing so 
nice has ever happened to me. I still think the man is insane 
to buy books without seeing them. That’s about all I can 
think of, I knew you’d want to know. 

Affectionately, 

John 


Soon afterwards, Ted Miller sent the assignment of 
McBride’s copyright. 

“For myself I would hate to see the Cup reissued,” 
Steinbeck wrote him. “I’ve outgrown it and it embar- 
rasses me. But my father talked continually about 
the copyright, which he thinks is valuable. Now that 
he has it in the safe, he is happier.” 

In June Steinbeck replied to his publisher’s request 
for publicity and biographical material. 


To Robert O. Ballou 


Pacific Grove 
June lo, 1932 

Dear Mr. Ballou: 

Yotur telegram puts a burden of embarrassment on me. I 
have no reluctance toward writing an “unreticent story of 
my life.” Immediately there arises a problem of emphasis. 
Things of the greatest emphasis to me would be more or less 
meaningless to anyone else. Such a biography would consist 
of such things as — the way the sparrows hopped about on the 
mud street early in the morning when I was little — ^how the 

62 



noon bell sounded when we were writing dirty words on the 
sidewalk with red fuchsia berries — how Teddy got run over 
by a fire engine, and the desolation of loss — the most tremen- 
dous morning in the world when my pony had a cold. 

What you undoubtedly want is about two paragraphs of 
facts. I’ve forgotten so many of the facts. I don’t remember 
what is true and what might have been true. It hasn’t been 
a story to write about, you see. Nothing much has ever hap- 
pened. 

As for the picture — I hate cameras. They are so much more 
sure than I am about everything. I am sending you a photo- 
graph of a large drawing which I like. I hope it will do. 

I can’t say how much I wish this kind of thing weren’t 
necessary. I feel like a man who has been to a horse race, and 
who is asked, “What were you doing while the race was on? 
What were you doing with your hands? How did your face 
look?” He wouldn’t know, and I don’t know. 

There are some things I can prove. If I put them down, will 
you write this thing? And if you don’t like any of it, you can 
make one up that you do like. It doesn’t matter to me. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


Through this period Steinbeck had been working on 
another and final rewrite of The Unknown God. He 
customarily used a ledger for his writing. Some- 
times this contained the manuscript itself and other 
times notes which preceded the day’s work, and 
which he called his “daybook” or his “workbook.” At 
one time he wrote in used ledgers from his father’s 
office, on the backs of pages already covered on one 
side with accounts. He actually bought the ledger in 
which The Unknown God was written, and it is 
more than likely that poverty at least partly dictated 
his choice of a bound book of pages instead of sepa- 
rate sheets of manuscript paper. Certainly it was 
poverty that caused his choice of ink. As he wrote 
Duke Sheffield: 


63 



“A year ago Holman’s department store had an ink 
sale — ink that had been so long in stock that it was 
as ripe and rich as Napoleon brandy, cobwebs on the 
bottles. Two bottles for five cents. I bought two and 
used them. On page 167 the green was exhausted and 
I went back, but the sale was over and I bought one 
bottle of blue for ten cents.” 

This ledger of The Unknown God also marks the 
first time he directed the entire concept and ap- 
proach of his work, not to a faceless and generalized 
audience, but to a single person. It would be his 
practice for the rest of his life. 


To Carlton A. Sheffield 


[Pacific Grove] 
[1932 

To Dook — [fragments from a ledger] 

When I bought this book, and began to fill it with words, it 
occurred to me that you might like to have it when it was full. 
You have that instinct so highly developed in magpies, pack- 
rats and collectors. I should like you to have this book and my 
reasons are all sentimental and therefore, of course, unmen- 
tionable. I love you very much. I have never been able to give 
you a present that cost any money. It occurs to me that you 
might accept a present that cost me a hell of a lot of work. 
For I do not write easily. Three hours of writing require 
twenty hours of preparation. Luckily I have learned to dream 
about the work, which saves me some working time. 

Now as always — ^humility and terror. Fear that the work- 
ing of my pen cannot capture the grinding of my brain. It is 
so easy to understand why the ancients prayed for the help 
of a Muse. And the Muse came and stood beside them, and 
we, heaven help us, do not believe in Muses. We have nothing 
to fall back on but our craftsmanship and it, as modern liter- 
ature attests, is inadequate. 

64 




May I be honest; may I be decent; may I be unaffected 
by the technique of hucksters. If invocation is required, let 
this be my invocation — may I be strong and yet gentle, 
tender and yet wise, wise and yet tolerant. May I for a lit- 
tle while, only for a little while, see with the inflamed 
eyes of a God. 

I wonder if you know why I address this manuscript to you. 
You are the only person in the world who believes I can do 
what I set out to do. Not even I believe that all the time. And 
so, in a kind of gratitude, I address all my writing to you, 
whether or not you know it. 

Now this book is finished, Dook. You will have to work on 
it; to help straighten out the roughness, to say where it falls 
short. I wish I valued it more so that it would be a better gift. 
It isn’t nearly all I hoped it would be. I remember when I 
finished the earlier book of the same title. I took it to you and 
you said, “It is very good.” And I knew you knew it was terri- 
ble, and you knew I knew you knew it. And if this one is as 
bad I hope you will tell me. I’ve worked too hard on it. I can’t 
tell much about it. 

Anyway — this is your book now. I hope you’ll like to have 
it. 

love, 

John 


To George Albee 


Pacific Grove 
September 27, 1932 

On the 27 of September 1932 1 borrowed from George Albee 
one hundred dollars on the slightly questionable collateral of 
a contract held by me from Brewer, Warren and Putnam. I 
promise to repay this one hundred dollars when contractual 

65 



obligations are satisfied which is within two weeks of the 
twenty-first of October, 1932. 

Signed. 

John Steinbeck 


Brewer, Warren, and Putnam was the publishing 
house to which Robert Ballou had moved after the 
bankruptcy of his former firm. He took Steinbeck’s 
contracts with him, but the only novel of Steinbeck’s 
that the new firm would remain solvent long enough 
to publish in this Depression year would be The Pas- 
tures of Heaven. 

During a stay of several months in Southern Cali- 
fornia, Steinbeck continued to work on the final re- 
write of To An Unknown God. 


To Robert O. Ballou 


2527 Hermosa Avenue 
Montrose, California 
January 3, 1933 

Dear Ballou, 

Your letter came this morning together with one from Me 
& O containing the belated check. It was a relief. Tillie, prop- 
erly Tylie Eulenspiegel [who had recently died], was an Aire- 
dale terrier and a very beautiful one. She was beautifully 
trained — could point quail, retrieve ducks, bring in hares or 
clear a road of sheep. More important than these though, she 
had the most poignant capacity for interest and enjoyment in 
the world. It was much more important to us that she be alive 
than that people like Hearst and Cornelius Vanderbilt foul 
up the planet. She was house broken. 

This book draws to a close. It will (if nothing happens) be 

66 




ready to send before the end of February. I shall be very glad 
to have it done. I hope to God you’ll like it. I have grave 
doubts. The title will be To A God Unknown. The transposi- 
tion in words is necessary to a change in meaning. The un- 
known in this case meaning “Unexplored.” 

This is taken from the Vedic hymns. I want no confusion 
with the unknown God of St. Paul. 

That’s all. Thanks again for routing out the check. 

John Steinbeck 


To Mavis McIntosh 


Montrose 
January 1933 

Dear Miss McIntosh: 

We live in the hills back of Los Angeles now and there are 
few people around. One of our neighbors loaned me three 
hundred detective magazines, and I have read a large part of 
them out of pure boredom. They are so utterly lousy that I 
wonder whether you have tried to peddle that thing I dashed 
off to any of them [“The Murder”]. It might mean a few dol- 
lars. Could be very much cut to fit, you know. Will you think 
about it? It would be better than letting it lie around, don’t 
you think? 

I think that, when this is sent off (this new novel) I shall 
do some more short stories. I always think I will and they 
invariably grow into novels, but I’ll try anyway. There are 
some fine little things that happened in a big sugar mill 
where I was assistant chief chemist and majordomo of about 
sixty Mexicans and Yuakis taken from the jails of northern 
Mexico. There was the Guttierez family that spent its ac- 
cumulated money for a Ford and started from Mexico never 
thinking they might need gasoline. There was the ex-cor- 
poral of Mexican cavalry, whose wife had been stolen by a 
captain and who was training his baby to be a general so he 
could get even better women. There was the Lazarus who 

67 



drank factory acid and sat down to die. The lime in his 
mouth neutralized the acid but he could never go back to his 
old life because he had been spiritually dead for a moment. 
His will to live never came back. There was the Indian who, 
after a terrific struggle to learn to tell time by a clock, in- 
vented a clock of his own that he could understand. There is 
the saga of the Carriaga family. Son hanged himself for love 
of a chippy and was cut down and married the girl. His 
father aged sixty-five fell in love with a fourteen-year-old 
girl and tried the same thing, but a door with a spring lock 
fell shut and he didn’t get cut down. There is Ida Laguna who 
fell violently in love with the image of St. Joseph and stole it 
from the church and slept with it and they both went to hell. 
These are a few as they really happened. I could make some 
little stories of them I think. 

I notice that a number of reviewers (what lice they are) 
complain that I deal particularly in the subnormal and the 
psychopathic. If said critics would inspect their neighbors 
within one block, they would find that I deal with the normal 
and the ordinary. 

The manuscript called Dissonant Symphony I wish you 
would withdraw. I looked at it not long ago and I don’t want 
it out. I may rewrite it sometime, but I certainly do not want 
that mess published under any circumstances, revised or not. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


To Robert O. Ballou 


[Montrose] 
February ii, 1933 

Dear Ballou: 

Please don’t mind the pencil. I don’t own a fountain pen. 
I am lying in the sun, drinking cofPee. Of course I could use 
the typewriter. For the first time in one solid month it is idle. 
This is a good day. I shipped mss. to Miss O. this morning. 

68 



You should get it before very long. I hope you will like it. The 
book was hellish hard to write. I had been making notes for 
it for about five years. It will probably be a hard book to sell. 
Its characters are not “home folks.” They make no more 
attempt at being sincerely human than the people in the 
Iliad. Boileau (much like your name) insisted that only gods, 
kings and heroes were worth writing about. I firmly believe 
that. The detailed accounts of the lives of clerks don’t interest 
me much, unless, of course, the clerk breaks into heroism. 
But I have no intention of trying to explain my book. It has 
to do that for itself. I would be sure of its effect if it could be 
stipulated that the readers read to an obbligato of Bach. 

There are several things in your letter that I must answer. 
The Hymn to a God Unknown was, of course, written about 
three thousand years ago. It must have been chanted, but I 
know of no music. The disadvantage of setting Sanskrit 
characters in the end papers is that it would give an Eastern 
look to the book. 

Your letter sounds a bit disconsolate. The working of pub- 
lishing houses must be nerve wracking, but I should think it 
would be heartening. More and more competitions going out. 
And the need for books is leaping, not dropping. I know a 
French boy who started a haberdashery just before the crash. 
On all sides of him stores went under but he continued mer- 
rily. I went to see him the other day and asked him how he 
did it. He said, “I come from French peasant stock. We waste 
nothing. I have very little overhead. Such things as ‘service’ 
and luxury are killing my competition. If I make a dollar it 
is my dollar.” If you can hold out for a year without falling 
into the mess the others have, you will be the “Publisher.” 
Your method is sane. Knopf says that only i percent of the 
books are sold because of advertising. And advertising is the 
most expensive item, isn’t it? I can’t tell you how pleased I am 
to be associated with you. 

The Murder I thought might be sold to a pulp if it were cut 
down. Even a little money would be better than a bunch of 
grapes. [It was sold to North American Review and was in- 
cluded among the O. Henry Prize Stories the following year.] 

We are very happy. I need a dog pretty badly. I dreamed of 
dogs last night. They sat in a circle and looked at me and I 
wanted all of them. Apparently we are heading for the rocks. 
The light company is going to turn off the power in a few 
days, but we don’t care much. The rent is up pretty soon and 

69 



then we shall move. I don’t know where. It doesn’t matter. My 
wife says she would much rather go out and meet disaster, 
than to have it sneak up on her. The attacking force has the 
advantage. I feel the same way. We’ll get in the car and drive 
until we can’t buy gasoline any more. Have two more books 
almost ready to start but a month of messing around won’t 
hurt. But I do need a dog. Tillie haunts the house terribly. 

Please let me hear as soon as you can, what you think of 
this new book. It was an important piece of work to me. I 
wanted to make a beautiful and true book. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


His mother’s sudden serious illness would now force 
John and Carol Steinbeck to divide their time be- 
tween the family home in Salinas and the little 
house in Pacific Grove. 


To George Albee 


Box 6 

Salinas, California 

[1933] 

Wednesday 

Dear George: 

This is a very sad time. Mother seems to be slipping badly. 
Every other day she seems to be a little better and then the 
next she slips back a little weaker. My father doesn’t know 
how sick she is and we aren’t telling him. He has enough 
worries as it is. Don’t tell anyone down there what I just said. 
I am sometimes astounded at the way things get about, unbe- 
lievable. Anyway we are expecting the worst and hoping it 

70 




may not be the very worst, that is a paralysis. 

I am taking up the harmonica in my usual thorough way. I 
decided that there was no future in the peedle pipe, no chords. 
Besides my new peedle pipe is in B and the accordeen is in D 
and while we do a fairly good peanut vendor, and the combi- 
nation hits hearts and flowers as it should be hit, for serious 
music you just can’t put B and D together and make anything 
sweet of it. So I got a D harmonica and we are getting hot. 

I have the pony story about half written. [The Red Pony] I 
like it pretty well. It is more being written for discipline than 
for any other reason. I mean if I can write any kind of a story 
at a time like this, then I can write stories. I don’t need publi- 
cation so why should I send it to Story which pays nothing. 
If I can’t hit a paying magazine I’ll put it away for the future 
collection that everybody dreams about. It is a very simple 
story about a boy who gets a colt pony and the pony gets 
distemper. There is a good deal in it, first about the training 
of horses and second about the treatment of distemper. This 
may not seem like a good basis for a story but that entirely 
depends upon the treatment. The whole thing is as simply 
told as though it came out of the boy’s mind although there 
is no going into the boy’s mind. It is an attempt to make the 
reader create the boy’s mind for himself. An interesting ex- 
periment you see if nothing else. I’ll send you a carbon of it 
when I get it done. It will take about three more days. Maybe 
four. I have to go to the hospital this afternoon while they 
draw some blood from mother. It 

[unfinished letter] 


To Robert O. Ballou 


Salinas 
June 1, 1933 

Dear Ballou; 

We came to my home because my mother was ill. She has 
grown steadily worse and five days ago suffered a stroke of 
paralysis which put her left side out completely and perma- 


71 




nently. And there it stays. She has improved now and may 
live on in this state for a year or even more. Needless to say 
I shall not be in New York this summer or any other time for 
a long time in the future. I am badly needed here and I have 
no regrets about that except that my work seems to be at a 
standstill. I spend about eight hours a day in the hospital. 
Thought I would take my little pad and work there, but the 
tiny scratching of the pen is irritating to the patient. I have 
been very ill myself and I know how such a sound can be 
utterly maddening. If this continues, she will be brought 
home and then I shall continue in another room just out of 
her ear shot. I have been trying to go on at night but find it 
very slow. It is difficult to concentrate. I guess we are all 
pretty tired. But it is good discipline. Perhaps you can see 
now, why I was insistent on the dedication last year. I have 
sisters who might help out but they all have children who get 
something every time anything happens. Besides I have no 
inclination to go away. That is a curious thing. I’ve always 
thought I would want to run away but I don’t. That is the end 
of a paragraph of woe. 

We have a new dog. I will send you his picture when I take 
it. He is an Irish terrier pup, a beauty. His owner died and we 
bought him from the dog hating wife. A great bargain. He is 
not nervous nor noisy the way so many terriers are. I will 
surely photograph him when I get the direction to do any- 
thing. 

I wish you would tell me whether you are going to publish 
this book and when. In weaker moments I imagine a con- 
spiracy of silence. 

Please let me hear from you before too long. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


72 



To George Albee 


[Salinas] 

[1933I 

Dear George; 

I have forgotten how long ago I wrote to you and what I 
told you. Did I write very frequently? I can’t remember. I 
have your letter this morning. I don’t know whether I told 
you that mother is now paralysed and will linger perhaps 
a year. It has been a bad time. The pony story, you can 
understand has been put off for a while. But now I spend 
about seven hours a day in the hospital and I am trying to 
go on with it, but with not a great deal of success, because 
partly I have to fight an atmosphere of blue fog so thick 
and so endless that I can see no opening in it. However, if 
I can do it, it will be good. Anyone can write when the 
situation is propitious. I’d like to prove to myself that I 
can write in any circumstance. 

I hate to think what a year here will do to us. Perhaps 
nothing. I am pretty rubber. Carol is the one who will suffer. 
She takes things harder than I do, but she has been wonder- 
ful about the whole thing. 

Went to the hospital and got a few pages of the pony 
story done although I suspect it is pretty rotten. But be- 
tween bed pans and calling relatives I got some done. I 
shall hate to spoil it because it is really a fine story. Carol 
is going bicycling this afternoon. She had her bicycle 
fixed up and skids about the streets on it. Poor kid, she 
needs some kind of relaxation. She hasn’t had any fun in 
a long time. And I don’t see much chance that she will 
have any for some time to come. I would send her away 
for a while if she would go. I imagine that the English 
edition of The Pastures is out because I have begun to get 
letters from clipping bureaus. 

I think I would like to write the story of this whole valley, 
of all the little tovras and all the farms and the ranches in the 
wilder hills. I can see how I would like to do it so that it would 
be the valley of the world. But that will have to be sometime 


73 



in the future. I would take so very long. There doesn’t seem 
to be anything more to say. 

bye 

jon 


It was while observing the course of his mother’s 
illness that notes which Steinbeck had been making 
at random for many years suddenly came into focus 
— with the collaboration of Ed Ricketts — and a turn- 
ing point in his creative life was reached. Even at 
the time it seemed so important to him that, con- 
trary to his custom, he dated in full the letter in 
which he first wrote about it. 


To Carlton A. Sheffield 


Pacific Grove 
June 21, 1933 

This is not a letter to read unless you have so much time 
that you just don’t care. I just want to talk and there is no one 
to talk to. Out of the all encircling good came a theme finally. 
I knew it would. Until you can put your theme in one sen- 
tence, you haven’t it in hand well enough to write a novel. 
The process is this (I am writing this at the risk of being 
boring. One can refuse to read a letter and the writer of it will 
never know.) The process is this — one puts down endless 
observations, questions and remarks. The number grows and 
grows. Eventually they all seem headed in one direction and 
then they whirl like sparks out of a bonfire. And then one day 
they seem to mean something. 

When they do, it is the most exciting time in the world. I 
have three years of them and only just now have they taken 

74 



a direction. Suddenly they are all of one piece. Then the 
problem begins of trying to find a fictional symbolism which 
will act as a vehicle. 

Let me quote a few of the notes. The coral insect working 
with hundreds of billions of others, eventually creates a 
strange and beautiful plant-like formation. In the course of 
time numberless plants create the atoll. Architecturally the 
atoll is very beautiful and good. Certain groups in Europe at 
one time created the Gothic spire. They seem to have worked 
under a stimulus as mysterious, as powerful and as general 
as that which caused the coral insects to build. 

Note — in nineteen seventeen this unit was in a physical 
and psychic condition which made it susceptible to the in- 
roads of the influenza germ. This germ at other times was not 
deadly, and, when encountered now, causes discomfort but 
not ordinarily death. It has been shown that at the time men- 
tioned the germ had not changed but the receptivity of the 
race had. 

Note — in Mendocino county a whole community turned 
against one man and destroyed him although they had taken 
no harm from him. This will sound meaningless to you un- 
less you could see the hundreds of notes that make them 
meaningful to me. It is quite easy for the group, acting under 
stimuli to viciousness, to eliminate the kindly natures of its 
units. When acting as a group, men do not partake of their 
ordinary natures at all. The group can change its nature. It 
can alter the birth rate, diminish the number of its units, 
control states of mind, alter appearance, physically and 
spiritually. All of the notations ! have made begin to point to 
an end — That the group is an individual as boundaried, as 
diagnosable, as dependent on its units and as independent of 
its units’ individual natures, as the human unit, or man, is 
dependent on his cells and yet is independent of them. 

Does this begin to make sense to you? The greatest group 
unit, that is the whole race, has qualities which the individ- 
ual lacks entirely. It remembers a time when the moon was 
close, when the tides were terrific. It remembers a time when 
the weight of the individual doubled itself every twenty- 
eight days, and strangely enough, it remembers every step of 
its climb from the single cell to the human. The human unit 
has none of these memories. 

The nature of the groups, I said, were changeable. Usually 
they are formed by topographical peculiarities. Sometimes a 


75 



terrible natural stimulus will create a group over night. They 
are of all sizes, from the camp meeting where the units pool 
their souls to make one yearning cry, to the whole world 
which fought the war. Russia is giving us a nice example of 
human units who are trying with a curious nostalgia to get 
away from their individuality and reestablish the group unit 
the race remembers and wishes. I am not drawing conclu- 
sions. Merely trying to see where the stream of all my notes 
is going. 

One could easily say that man, during his hunting period, 
had to give up the group since all the game hunters must; 
and now that his food is not to be taken by stealth and preci- 
sion, is going back to the group which takes its food by con- 
certed action. That if one lives by the food of the lion he must 
hunt singly, if by the food of the ruminants he may live in 
herds and protect himself by his numbers. 

It can be placed somewhat like this for the moment — as 
individual humans we are far superior in our functions to 
anything the world has born — in our groups we are not only 
not superior but in fact are remarkably like those most per- 
fect groups, the ants and bees. I haven’t begun to tell you this 
thing. I am not ready to. 

Half of the cell units of my mother’s body have rebelled. 
Neither has died, but the revolution has changed her func- 
tions. That is cruel to say. The first line on this thing came 
from it though. She, as a human unit, is deterred from func- 
tioning as she ordinarily did by a schism of a number of her 
cells. 

And, when the parts of this thesis have found their places. 
I’ll start trying to put them into the symbolism of fiction. 

The fascinating thing to me is the way the group has a soul, 
a drive, an intent, an end, a method, a reaction and a set of 
tropisms which in no way resembles the same things pos- 
sessed by the men who make up the group. These groups 
have always been considered as individuals multiplied. And 
they are not so. They are beings in themselves, entities. Just 
as a bar of iron has none of the properties of the revolving, 
circling, active atoms which make it up, so these huge crea- 
tures, the groups, do not resemble the human atoms which 
compose them. 

This is muddled, Dook. I wouldn’t send it to anyone else in 
this form. But you and I have talked so much together that 
we can fill in the gaps we leave. 

76 



We were awfully glad to get both your letters. Write often, 
this is a deadly time for us. And you might put your mind on 
the problem I have stated. If you could help me put it into 
form, I probably would have less trouble finding my symbols 
for reproducing it. You will find the first beginning concep- 
tion of it among the anthropologists, but none of them has 
dared to think about it yet. The subject is too huge and too 
terrifying. Since it splashed on me, I have been able to think 
of nothing else. 

It is an explanation of so many mysterious things, the rea- 
sons for migrations, the desertion of localities, the sudden 
diseases which wiped races out, the sudden running amok of 
groups. It would explain how Genghis Khan and Attila and 
the Goths suddenly stopped being individual herdsmen and 
hunters and became, almost without transition, a destroying 
creature obeying a single impulse. It would explain the sud- 
den tipping over of Prohibition, and that ten years ago the 
constitution of the US was a thing of God and now it is abro- 
gated with impunity. Oh! it is a gorgeous thing. Don’t you 
think so? 

I am ignorant enough to promulgate it. If I had more 
knowledge I wouldn’t have the courage to think it out. It isn’t 
thought out yet, but I have a start. Think of the lemmings, 
little gophers who live in holes and who suddenly in their 
millions become a unit with a single impulse to suicide. 
Think of the impulse which has suddenly made Germany 
overlook the natures of its individuals and become what it 
has. Hitler didn’t do it. He merely speaks about it. 

I’ll stop before I drive you as crazy as I have become since 
all my wonderings have taken a stream like force. All the 
things I’ve wondered about and pondered about are seeming 
to make sense at last. Why the individual is incapable of 
understanding the nature of the group. That is why publish- 
ing is unsure, why elections are the crazy things they are. We 
only feel the emotions of the group beast in times of religious 
exaltation, in being moved by some piece of art which intoxi- 
cates us while we do not know what it is that does it. Are you 
as nuts as I am now? 

love 

john 


77 



To Carlton A. Sheffield 


Salinas 
June 30, 1933 

Dear Dock: 

I had your letter in answer to my hectic one. And I was 
sorry that you went off into consideration of the technique of 
the novel which will result. I can see how it will be done all 
right, but I am in more interest just now to get the foundation 
straight and the physical integrity of it completed. 

My sister Beth is coming over for a few days. Perhaps we 
might get up to Sausalito while she is here to relieve us. Can’t 
tell, though. Everything gets out of hand this year. There’s 
probably something wrong meteorologically. 

Nothing is changed here. This is going to be a very long 
siege. The doctor says it may last for years. There’s a sen- 
tence for you, for we can’t leave while it lasts. There is no 
way out. I finished one story and it is ready to be typed, about 
ten thousand words, I guess [The Red Pony]. There was no 
consecutive effort put on it. If it has any continuity it is mar- 
velous. I can’t think of any possible medium which would 
include it. It was good training in self control and that’s 
about all the good it is. Now I have my new theme to think 
about there will be few loopholes in my days. I can think 
about it while helping with a bed pan. I can make notes at 
any time of the day or night, and I think I shall delay the 
writing of it until I have the ability for sustained concentra- 
tion. However, if the time is too long I can’t even wait for 
that. I’ll have to go to work on it. The pieces of it are fast 
massing and getting ready to drop into their places. 

I think this is all of this letter. 

love 

John 


78 



Now he began using the word “phalanx” for the 
“group” or “group unit” he had been describing. 


To George Albee 


[Salinas] 

[1933] 

Dear George: 

I have your letter of this morning. Mary just went home. 
We liked having her, but she brought her children which 
took all her time from helping, and the noise they made was 
out of place in this house of gloom and melancholy. They 
made us nervous. I like them. They are the best children. But 
this is no place for any child. We are taking care of a dead 
person. We work as hard as we can to keep from thinking of 
it. We try all we can to keep out of her mind. 

I can answer all of your questions now. But I hesitate be- 
cause of the work it entails. I shall try though, because you 
need help and this will help you, not because it is something 
I have discovered. I haven’t discovered it. The discovery has 
come as all great ones have, by a little discovery by each of 
a great number of men, and finally by one man who takes all 
the little discoveries and correlates them and gives the whole 
thing a name. The thesis takes in all life, and for that part, 
all matter. But you are only interested in life and so am I. 

We know that with certain arrangements of atoms we 
might have what we would call a bar of iron. Certain other 
arrangements of atoms plus a mysterious principle make a 
living cell. Now the living cell is very sensitive to outside 
stimuli or tropisms. A further arrangement of cells and a 
very complex one may make a unit which we call a man. 
That has been our final unit. But there have been mysterious 
things which could not be explained if man is the final unit. 
He also arranges himself into larger units, which I have 
called the phalanx. The phalanx has its own memory- 
memory of the great tides when the moon was close, memory 
of starvations when the food of the world was exhausted. 


79 



Memory of methods when numbers of his units had to be 
destroyed for the good of the whole, memory of the history 
of itself. And the phalanx has emotions of which the unit 
man is incapable. Emotions of destruction, of war, of mi- 
gration, of hatred, of fear. These things have been touched on 
often. 

Religion is a phalanx emotion and this was so clearly un- 
derstood by the church fathers that they said the holy ghost 
would come when two or three were gathered together. You 
have heard about the trickiness of the MOB. Mob is simply 
a phalanx, but if you try to judge a mob nature by the nature 
of its men units, you will fail as surely as if you tried to 
understand a man by studying one of his cells. You will say 
you know all this. Of course you do. It has to be written in 
primer language. All tremendous things do. 

During the war we had probably the greatest phalanx in 
the history of the world. If we could devote our study to the 
greater unit, we would be capable of judging the possible 
actions of the phalanx, of prophesying its variability, and the 
direction it might take. We can find no man unit reason for 
the sudden invasion of Europe by a race of Hun shepherds, 
who were transformed overnight into a destroying force, a 
true phalanx, and in another generation had become shep- 
herds again, so weak that an invasion of Tartars over- 
whelmed them. We can find no man unit reason for the sud- 
den migration of the Mayas. We say Attila did it or Ghenghis 
Khan, but they couldn’t. They were simply the spokesmen of 
the movement. Hitler did not create the present phalanx in 
Germany, he merely interprets it. 

Now in the unconscious of the man unit there is a key- 
ing mechanism. Jung calls it the third person. It is the 
plug which when inserted into the cap of the phalanx, 
makes man lose his unit identity in the phalanx. The ar- 
tist is one in whom the phalanx comes closest to the con- 
scious. Art then is the property of the phalanx, not of the 
individual. Art is the phalanx knowledge of the nature of 
matter and of life. 

Dr. [Walter K.] Fischer at Hopkins [Marine Station, Pacific 
Grove] said one day that you could find any scientific discov- 
ery in the poetry of the preceding generation. Democritus 
promulgated an accurate atomic theory four hundred years 
before Christ. The artist is simply the spokesman of the pha- 

8o 



lanx. When a man hears great music, sees great pictures, 
reads great poetry, he loses his identity in that of the pha- 
lanx. I do not need to describe the emotion caused by these 
things, but it is invariably a feeling of oneness with one’s 
phalanx. For man is lonely when he is cut off. He dies. From 
the phalanx he takes a fluid necessary to his life. In the 
mountains I saw men psychologically emaciated from being 
alone. You can’t find a reason for doing certain things. You 
couldn’t possibly find a reason. You are dealing with a crea- 
ture whose nature you cannot know intellectually, of whose 
emotions you are ignorant. Whose reasons, directions, 
means, urges, pleasures, drives, satieties, ecstasies, hungers 
and tropisms are not yours as an individual. 

I can’t give you this thing completely in a letter, George. I 
am going to write a whole novel with it as a theme, so how 
can I get it in a letter? Ed Ricketts has dug up all the scientific 
material and more than I need to establish the physical in- 
tegrity of the thing. I have written this theme over and over 
and did not know what I was writing. I found at least four 
statements of it in the God. Old phalanxes break up in a fine 
imitation of death of the man unit, new phalanxes are born 
under proper physical and spiritual conditions. They may be 
of any size from the passionate three who are necessary to 
receive the holy spirit, to the race which overnight develops 
a soul for conquest, to the phalanx which commits suicide 
through vice or war or disease. When your phalanx needs 
you it will use you, if you are the material to be used. You will 
know when the time comes, and when it does come, nothing 
you can do will let you escape. 

There is no change with mother nor can there be for a long 
time to come. I hope this letter will give you something to 
chew on. Don’t quibble about it with small exceptions until 
the whole thing has taken hold. Once it has, the exceptions 
will prove unimportant. Of course I am interested in it as 
tremendous and terrible poetry. I am neither scientist nor 
profound investigator. But I am experiencing an emotional 
vastness in working this out. The difficulty of writing the 
poetry is so great that I am not even contemplating it until 
I have absorbed and made a part of my body the thesis as a 
whole. 

I corrected and sent back the proofs of the God this week. 
It reads pretty well. Ballou is rushing it so it may be out 

8i 



among the earliest of the Fall books. And that is all for this 
time. 

Love to you and Anne and I do wish I could talk to you. 

john 


“The fictional symbol which will act as a vehicle” 
for the phalanx theory appeared in several guises 
after this period, among them in The Leader of the 
People with its description of the “westering” mi- 
gration; in In Dubious Battle; and, notably, in The 
Grapes of Wrath. Professor Richard Astro of Oregon 
State University mentions the famous turtle in 
Chapter Three of that novel, “symbolically repre- 
senting the Joads’ weary trek westward,” and points 
out that an ancient Roman phalanx in close-order 
advance with shields locked overhead was called a 
testudo or tortoise. Was Steinbeck aware of this? 
There is no way of knowing. 

Meanwhile, earlier and throughout that summer of 
1933. he had been writing frequently to Albee. 


To George Albee 


[Salinas] 
[June 1933] 

Dear George: 

Nothing is changed here. Mother gets a little stronger but 
not less helpless. There are terrible washings every day. 9-12 
sheets. I wash them and Carol irons them. I try to sneak in 
a little work, but Mother wants to tell me something about 
every fifteen minutes. Her mind wanders badly. T his story 
which in ordinary times I could do ip four days is taking over 
a month to write and isn’t any good anyway. Carol is working 

82 



like a dog. She stays cheerful and makes things easier for all 
of us. It’s hard to cook for nurses. If I can have two good days, 
ni finish this darn story. It really isn’t a story at all. 

One of my sisters came last week and took charge, letting 
us go to the Grove for two days. The weather was fine and the 
garden beautiful. I got my importance in the picture 
straightened out. It’s hard to break through now I am back. 
One’s ego grows under this pressure until one’s feelings are 
more important than they deserve to be. It’s hard to keep 
scaled down. 

A letter from Ballou says he thinks he can get the money 
for fall publication. He says the other houses are as badly off 
as he is and M. & O. agree. I really want to stay with him if 
he can make it. 

John 


To George Albee 


Salinas 

[1933] 

Dear George: 

I presume, since I have an impulse to write to you, you 
must either be writing to me or contemplating it or have just 
finished it. Nothing is changed here. I am typing the second 
draft of the pony story. A few pages a day. This morning is 
a good example. One paragraph — ^help lift patient on bed 
pan. Back, a little ill, three paragraphs, help turn patient so 
sheets can be changed. Back — three lines, nausea, hold pans, 
help hang bedding, back — two paragraphs, patient wants to 
tell me that her brother George is subject to colds, and the 
house must be kept warm. Brother George is not here but a 
letter came from him this morning. That is a morning. One 
page and a half typed. You can see that concentration thrives 
under difficulties since I have a fear and hatred of illness and 
incapacity which amounts to a mania. But I’ll get the story 
typed all right sooner or later and then I’ll correct it and 
then Carol will try to find time to finish it and how she is 

83 




going to do that I haven’t any idea. 

I have my new theme out of all this [the phalanx theory], 
I am scared to death. It is as much huger than the last book 
as the last book was larger than The Pastures. In fact it has 
covered my horizon completely enough so there doesn’t seem 
to be anything else to think about, for no possible human 
thought nor action gets outside its range. 

I presume you are swimming every day and basking and 
generally enjoying yourself. In a way I envy you and in an- 
other I don’t. I wouldn’t miss the ferocious pleasure of this 
thing of mine for any compensation. The illness (which by 
the way is the cause of the beginning conception) is worth it 
— everything is worth it. 

I have heard no more from the east. Me & O are probably 
mad at me for turning down the comparatively sure ready 
money from Simon and Schuster. But I can’t help that. I feel 
much safer with Ballou than I would with Simon and 
Schuster. 

I have a great many little blisters on my hands and on my 
forehead. Ed says it looks like an allergy. It may be a subcon- 
scious attempt to escape sick room duty. If it is, I will have 
to overcome it with some powerful magic of the conscious- 
ness — exorcism of some sort or other. I can’t have the sub- 
merged part playing tricks and getting away with them. 

That’s all for today. I’ll expect a letter in the next mail. 

John 


To George Albee 


[Salinas] 

[1933I 

Dear George; 

One piece of advice I can offer, and that is that you should 
never let any one suggest anything about your story to you. 
If you don’t know more about your character and situation 
than anyone else could, then you aren’t ready to write your 

84 



story anyway. It is primarily a lonely craft and must be ac- 
cepted as such. If you eliminate that loneliness of approach, 
you automatically eliminate some of the power of the effect. 
I don’t know why that is. 

I can’t tell which of the endings you should use. The second 
sounds very Dostoievsky, and after all you never saw a pris- 
oner flayed. You may argue that your reader never did either 
and so how can he tell. I don’t know, but he can. You might 
be able to make your second ending ring true, but you would 
be almost unique in letters if you could. I have somehow the 
feeling that you will abandon this book. Not because it isn’t 
good but because publishers are in a peculiar condition now. 
That you are heartily sick of the book is apparent. One thing 
you will have to do about your genius, though. You will have 
to give him some dignity and depth. You are writing about 
Howard Edminster, and while Howard may write superb 
poetry, his life and acts are those of a horse’s ass and a char- 
latan. Meanwhile your age does not justify that you waste 
tears over one book. You are growing out from under it and 
so you can never catch it again. Put it away and, at some time 
when publishing changes, you will find an out for it. That 
isn’t my advice, you know. I can’t tell you how to work and 
how to think. My method is probably wrong for you. Cer- 
tainly my outlook and vision of life is completely different 
from yours. 

The pony story is finally finished and the second draft 
done. I don’t know when Carol will find time to type it, but 
when she does. I’ll send you the second draft and then you 
won’t have to bother to send it back. It is an unpretentious 
story. I think the philosophic content is so buried that it will 
not bother anybody. Carol likes it, but I am afraid our minds 
are somewhat grown together so that we see with the same 
eyes and feel with the same emotions. You can see whether 
you like it at all. There never was more than a half hour of 
uninterrupted work put on it, and the nausea between para- 
graphs had to be covered up. I don’t see how it can have 
much continuity, but Carol says it has some. 

I guess that’s all. There is no change here. Mother’s mind 
gets farther and farther from its base. She is pretty much 
surrounded by dead relatives now. 

bye 

John 


85 



To Carl Wilhelmson 


Salinas 

[1933] 

Dear Carl: 

This has been a very bad year all around for us. Sometimes 
I get so shot that I feel like running out on the situation, a 
thing impossible of course. There are barriers psychological 
as well as physical. I have never run into so many barriers. 
It is really the first time I have been unable to run out of 
danger. I can’t get much of any work done, and the few words 
I do put down are written in the midst of constant interrup- 
tions. 

In general I guess we are all right. Carol is about ready for 
a breakdown maybe. You know one publisher after another 
wentbrokefromunderus.Mynewbook[ To A God Unknown] 
was held up for a long time and then I got four offers for it, 
and left it with Ballou because I like him and trust him, and 
I neither like nor trust the others. And so it will be out in the 
Fall. I sent the proofs back the day before yesterday. The last 
one [The Pastures of Heaven] seems to be getting a better 
break in England than it did in this country, but I can’t tell 
much about that for some time. 

I wish I could get to see you, but I don’t see how I can. I have 
to help in the office. Isn’t it funny, my two pet horrors, in- 
capacity and ledgers and they both hit at once. I write col- 
umns of figures in big ledgers and after about three hours of 
it I am so stupefied that I can’t get down to my own work. I 
can see very readily how office workers get the way they are. 
There is something soddenly hypnotic about the columns of 
figures. Once this is over, I shall starve before I’ll ever open 
another ledger. Sometimes we get away over a week end but 
Palo Alto is quite a long trip away or is it Berkeley where you 
are living. 

I shouldn’t be writing to anybody. It is impossible to keep 
the melancholy out of the tone of the words. I’ll put this letter 
away and if I hear from you I’ll add a line or two and send it. 

[unsigned] 


86 



To Carl Wilhelmson 


Salinas 
August 9, 1933 

Dear Carl: 

This loss of contact has been curious. 1 hope that now it is 
over. Enclosed is a letter I wrote to you a long time ago [the 
preceding letter] and never had your address to send it. 

This condition goes on, one of slow disintegration. It will 
not last a great time more, I think. For a long time I could not 
work, but now I have developed calluses and have gone back 
to work. It seems heartless when I think of it at all. You are 
much more complex than I am. I work because I know it 
gives me pleasure to work. It is as simple as that and I don’t 
require any other reasons. I am losing a sense of self to a 
marked degree and that is a pleasant thing. A couple of years 
ago I realized that I was not the material of which great 
artists are made and that I was rather glad I wasn’t. And 
since then I have been happier simply to do the work and to 
take the reward at the end of every day that is given for a day 
of honest work. I grow less complicated all the time and that 
is a joy to me. The forces that used to tug in various directions 
have all started to pull in one. I have a book to write. I think 
about it for a while and then I write it. There is nothing more. 
When it is done I have little interest in it. By the time one 
comes out I am usually tied up in another. 

I don’t think you will like my late work. It leaves realism 
farther and farther behind. I never had much ability for nor 
faith nor belief in realism. It is just a form of fantasy as 
nearly as I could figure. Boileau was a wiser man than 
Mencken. The festered characters of Faulkner are not very 
interesting to me unless their festers are heroic. This may be 
silly but it is what I am. There are streams in man more 
profound and dark and strong than the libido of Freud. 
Jung’s libido is closer but still inadequate. I take pleasure in 
my structures but I don’t think them very important except 
in the doing. 

Tillie died you know and now we have another dog named 
87 



Joddi. An Irish terrier and beauty. We like him. He is one of 
the toughest dogs I have ever seen although only a little over 
six months old. 

Your preoccupation with old age would be shocked out of 
you by seeing what I see every half hour all day, true age, 
true decay that is age. A human body that was all dead except 
for a tiny flickering light that comes on and then seems to go 
out and then flickers on again. Our life has been uprooted of 
course, but that doesn’t matter if I can find my escape in 
work. 

I have a book coming out in a couple of months. I don’t 
think I would read it if I were you. It might shock you to see 
the direction I have taken. Always prone to the metaphysical 
I have headed more and more in that direction. 

I have to go to the office now and write a few figures in a 
ledger. Then I will come home and to my afternoon’s work. 
I’ll write again in a little while. And let me hear from you 
again you old man. 

affectionately, 

John 


To Robert Ballou at this time he was writing: 

“My father collapsed a week ago under the six 
months’ strain and very nearly landed in the same 
position as my mother. It was very close. Paradoxi- 
cally, I have started another volume [Tortilla Flat], 
and it is going like wildfire. It is light and I think 
amusing but true, although no one who doesn’t 
know paisanos would ever believe it. I don’t care 
much whether it amounts to anything. I am enjoy- 
ing it and I need something to help me over this last 
ditch. Our house is crumbling very rapidly and 
when it is gone there will be nothing left.” 

And on November 20: 

“He is like an engine that isn’t moored tightly and 
that just shakes itself to pieces. His nerves are gone 
and that has brought on numbness and loss of eye- 
sight and he worries his condition all the time. Let 

88 



it go. We’re going on the rocks rapidly now. If 
mother lives six months more she will survive him. 
If she dies soon, he might recover but every week 
makes it less likely. Death I can stand but not this 
slow torture wherein a good and a strong man tears 
off little shreds of himself and throws them away.” 


To Edith Wagner 


Pacific Grove 
[November 23, 1933] 

Dear Mrs. Wagner: 

I am dreadfully sorry you are ill. I hope the treatments 
work out quickly. Illness doesn’t shock me the way it did. 
There’s a saturation point and I seem to have reached it. 
You’ll be well again soon. The pain is another thing. I don’t 
like pain. I hope you will be well soon. 

I have been in Salinas. My father is so completely worn out 
that I sent him over here with Carol and I went to Salinas. 
Now he is back there while Mary is up, but I’ll bring him 
back next Saturday. He is eating himself with nerves. The 
Grove seems to quiet him. And mother remains the same — 
no change at all. 

I’m glad you like the book [To a God Unknown]. The over- 
throw of personal individual character and the use of the 
Homeric generalized symbolic character seems to bother 
critics although a little study of the Bible or any of the writ- 
ers of antiquity would show that it is not very revolutionary. 
The cult of so called realism is a recent one, and anyone who 
doesn’t conform is looked on with suspicion. On the moral 
side — our moral system came in about two hundred years 
ago and will be quite gone in 25 more. 

When we came over here a month ago, I got to work finally 
and did three fourths of a book. I thought I was going to slip 
it through, but dad’s decline beat me. This is indeed writing 
under difficulty. The house in Salinas is pretty haunted now. 
I see things walking at night that it is not good to see. This 
last book is a very jolly one about Monterey paisanos. Its tone, 

89 




I guess, is direct rebellion against all the sorrow of our house. 
Dad doesn’t like characters to swear. But if I had taken all the 
writing instructions I’ve been given, I would be insane. I try 
to write what seems to me true. If it isn’t true for other peo- 
ple, then it isn’t good art. But I’ve only my own eyes to see 
with. I won’t use the eyes of other people. And as long as we 
can eat and write more books, that’s really all I require. 

We bought a second-hand radio to hear the Fall sympho- 
nies and it is a menace, for when dad is over here, he listens 
to all of the loudest speeches and that kills work. You know 
I should be writing a cheerful letter if you aren’t feeling well. 
Instead I write a list of complaints. 

Don’t think there is any courage in my work. If you de- 
mand little from life you limit its ability to strike at you and 
you can say what you wish about it. 

I do hope you feel better now. 

love 

John 


To George Albee 


[Pacific Grove] 
February 25, 1934 

Dear George: 

You remember that when you were up here we asked for 
a sign and the [ouija] board said that it would come to me on 
the day of my mother’s funeral. There was no sign except 
this one, if you can call it a sign. I asked you to pick a day for 
an attempted communication and without any knowledge 
you picked the day of my mother’s funeral. I tried to get 
through to you. I tried to tell you that she had died and that 
she had been buried that day and that I had been forced to 
be a pall bearer. I did it by making the words in yellow on a 
black background. In the middle of the crying, I stopped and 
wondered whether it was getting through and instantly the 
black ground was full of yes’s of all sizes. I wondered 
whether anything did get through. I was pretty much 
90 




stunned by the terrors of the day and probably didn’t have 
much force left but I tried with what I did have. Also I tried 
to tell Miss Otis that I had just sent her a new story that Carol 
likes immensely. 

I think you got out of the murder story about what I wanted 
you to. You got no character. I didn’t want any there. You got 
color and a dream like movement. I was writing it more as 
a dream than as anything else, so if you got this vague and 
curiously moving feeling out of it that is all I ask. I shall be 
interested to know what you think of the story, The Chrysan- 
themums. [This and “The Murder” became part of The Long 
Valley.] It is entirely different and is designed to strike with- 
out the reader’s knowledge. I mean he reads it casually and 
after it is finished feels that something profound has hap- 
pened to him although he does not know what nor how. It has 
had that effect on several people here. Carol thinks it is the 
best of all my stories. I’ll have some more before long. 

Just now my father is with us. Every nerve I have is de- 
manding that I be alone for a little while even for a day to 
make adjustments, but that has been impossible so far. 
Maybe later in the week it can be done. I have to figure some 
things out. I don’t even know what they are yet. I do think I’ll 
go on with short stories for a little while though until I get 
my adjustments made. I wish Carol could go off for a little 
rest. She has taken it on the chin throughout. I can’t use my 
freedom yet because I can’t conceive it yet. The other has 
grown to be a habit. 

We are going to Laguna with Ed Ricketts next month. He 
has to get some live octopuses and send by plane to New 
York, and we are going to make Laguna our base for catching 
the things. It will be a nice change. We won’t be there much 
over a week I guess. We have enough money to live two more 
months so I will have to get busy and make some more I 
guess. I have thirty pounds coming from England if I ever get 
it. That will allow some more months but the money to go 
any place has not showed up nor will it unless I should be 
lucky enough to sell some short stories. I have kind of yearn- 
ings for Alaska but I don’t know. Trying to stave off reaction 
until maybe there won’t be any. Carol’s book of poems is 
getting popular and she is swamped with demands for cop- 
ies. Ballou asked to see them, she sent him a copy as a Christ- 
mas present and never heard a word from him even that he 
had got them. Which was thoughtless of him because it is 


91 



work to get one of the copies out. She will make a copy for 
Anne pretty soon. I think they are swell. I guess that is all. It’s 
all I can think of anyway. 

love 

john 

Jesus I wish you two were out here and we could go camping. 
That’s what I need. The grass is green and all the flowers are 
out and I’ll just have to get out in the country for a little. 

bye. 


To George Albee 

WHO HAD MOVED TO NEW YORK 


[Pacific Grove] 

[1934] 

Dear George: 

I think I am in a kind of mood to write you a letter. I got 
yours a little while ago. I have been writing on my new ms. 
which I will tell you about later, for a good many hours and 
I think a change will do me good. 

You ask what I want? You know pretty well that I don’t 
think of myself as an individual who wants very much. That 
is why I am not a good nor consecutive seducer. I have the 
energy and when I think of it, the desires, but I can’t reduce 
myself to a unit from which the necessary formula ema- 
nates. I’m going to try to put this down once for all. I like good 
food and good clothes but faced with getting them, I can’t 
round myself into a procuring unit. Overalls and carrots do 
not make me unhappy. But the thing which probably more 
than anything else makes me what I am is an impervious- 
ness to ridicule. This may be simply dullness and stupidity. 
I notice in lots of other people that ridicule or a threat of it 
is a driving force which maps their line of life. And I haven’t 
that stimulus. In fact as an organism I am so simple that I 
want to be comfortable and comfort consists in — a place to 

92 



sleep, dry and fairly soft, lack of hunger, almost any kind of 
food, occasional loss of semen in intercourse when it 
becomes troublesome, and a good deal of work. These consti- 
tute my ends. You see it is a description of a stupid slothful 
animal. I am afraid that is what I am. I don’t want to possess 
anything, nor to be anything. I have no ambition because on 
inspection the ends of ambition achieved seem tiresome. 

Two things I really want and I can’t have either of them 
and they are both negative. I want to forget my mother lying 
for a year with a frightful question in her eyes and I want to 
forget and lose the pain in my heart that is my father. In one 
year he has become a fumbling, repetitious, senile old man, 
unhappy almost to the point of tears. But these wants are the 
desire to restore the lack of ego. They are the only two things 
which make me conscious of myself as a unit. Except for 
them I spread out over landscape and people like an enor- 
mous jelly fish, having neither personality nor boundaries. 
That is as I wish it, complete destruction of any thing which 
can be called a me. The work is necessary since from it 
springs all the other things. A lack of work for a while and 
the gases concentrate and become solids and out of the solids 
a me comes into being and I am uncomfortable when there 
is a me. Having no great wants, I have neither great love nor 
great hate, neither sense of justice nor of cruelty. It gives me 
a certain displeasure to hurt or kill things. But that is all. I 
have no morals. You have thought I had but it was because 
immorality seemed foolish and often bad economy. If I ob- 
jected to accounts of sexual exploits it wasn’t because of the 
exploits but because of the cause of the accounts. 

The reason we want to go away is primarily so that the two 
things I want may have a chance to be removed. That may 
be impossible. But forced and common visits to a grave yard 
are not conductive of such forgetfulness. 

You are right when you think I am not unhappy in this new 
arrangement. I never come up to the surface. I just work all 
the time. In the matter of money, my conception doesn’t ex- 
tend beyond two or three hundred dollars. I love Carol but 
she is far more real to me than I am to myself. If I think of 
myself I often find it is Carol I am thinking of. If I think what 
I want I often have to ask her what it is. Sometimes I wish 
I had sharply defined desires for material things, because the 
struggle to get them might be very satisfying. If one should 
want to think of me as a person, I am under the belief that 


93 



he would have to think of Carol. 

I am writing many stories now. Because I should like to sell 
some of them, I am making my characters as nearly as I can 
in the likeness of men. The stream underneath and the 
meanings I am interested in can be ignored. 

Between ourselves I don’t know what Miss McIntosh 
means by organization of myself. If she would inspect my 
work with care, she would see an organization that would 
frighten her, the slow development of thought pattern, revo- 
lutionary to the present one. I am afraid that no advice will 
change me much because my drive is not one I can get at. 
When they get tired of my consistent financial failures, they 
will just have to kick me out. I’m a bum, you see, and accord- 
ing to my sister, a fake, and my family is ashamed of me, and 
it doesn’t seem to make any difference at all. If I had the drive 
of ridicule I might make something of myself. 

This is probably a terrible sounding letter. It isn’t meant so. 
I am working so hard and so constantly that I am really quite 
happy. I don’t take life as hard as you do. Some very bitter 
thing dried up in me last year. 

And now I want to do one more page today before I sit down 
and look at the fire. The trouble is that I look at the fire and 
then get up and go to work again. I get around that by taking 
down the table and putting my manuscript book under the 
lower shelf of the book case where I must get a stick to get 
it out. Usually I am too lazy to get the stick. 

I hope this letter does not depress you. It is common that 
anything which is not optimistic is pessimistic. I am pegged 
as a pessimistic writer because I do not see the millenium 
coming. 

that’s all 
[unsigned] 


In February, he had written Mrs. Wagner: 

“I have been doing some short stories about the peo- 
ple of the county. Some of them I think you yourself 
told me.” 


94 



Mrs. Wagner became the source of another story, a 
personal reminiscence about a meeting she had 
once had with Robert Louis Stevenson. Steinbeck 
wrote it under the title “How Edith McGillicuddy 
Met Robert Louis Stevenson.” 


To Edith Wagner 


POSTCARD 

[Pacific Grove] 

June 4, 1934 

Dear Mrs. Wagner; 

Your letter came this morning. I didn’t know you had done 
a version of the story and I sent mine off with a lot of other 
stuff. I will do whatever you wish about the affair, divide in 
case of publication or recall the manuscript. Please let me 
know. 

Carol is in Salinas working for my father and 1 am over 
here trying to write myself out of a hole. 

I’m terribly sorry if I have filched one of your stories. I’m 
a shameless magpie anyway, picking up anything shiny that 
comes my way — incident, situation or personality. But if I 
had had any idea, I shouldn’t have taken it. I’ll do anything 
you like about it. 

Thank you for your letter. I get so few. I write so few. 

John 


95 



To Edith Wagner 


[Pacific Grove] 
June 13 [1934] 

Dear Mrs. Wagner: 

I am writing to my agents today, asking them to hold up the 
story. It is awkward for this reason — they’ve had the story for 
at least two weeks and since they are very active, it has un- 
doubtedly gone out. However, it can be stopped. I hope you 
will let me know how yours comes out, as soon as you hear. 
If it should happen to have been bought by the time my letter 
reaches New York, it can be held up. Mine, I mean. 

Pacific Grove summer has set in, fog most of the day. The 
people who come over from the Valley love it, but I wish the 
sun would shine. 

Well, I hope nothing untoward happens about this story. In 
sending it away I enclosed a note saying it had been told me 
by you. Plagiarism is not one of my sins. I’ll write you when 
I hear any outcome. 

AfPectionately, 

John 


To Mavis McIntosh 


Pacific Grove 

1934 

Dear Miss McIntosh: 

I want to write something about Tortilla Flat and about 
some ideas I have about it. The book has a very definite 
theme. I thought it was clear enough. I have expected that 
the plan of the Arthurian cycle would be recognized, that my 
Gawaine and my Launcelot, my Arthur and Galahad would 
be recognized. Even the incident of the Sangreal in the 
96 




search of the forest is not clear enough I guess. The form is 
that of the Malory version, the coming of Arthur and the 
mystic quality of owning a house, the forming of the round 
table, the adventure of the knights and finally, the mystic 
translation of Danny. 

The Arthurian legend had fascinated Steinbeck 
since childhood. As he wrote later: 

“When I first read it, I must have been already ena- 
moured of words because the old and obsolete words 
delighted me.” 

However, I seem not to have made any of this clear. The 
main issue was to present a little known and, to me, delight- 
ful people. Is not this cycle story or theme enough? Perhaps 
it is not enough because I have not made it clear enough. 
What do you think of putting in an interlocutor, who between 
each incident interprets the incident, morally, esthetically, 
historically, but in the manner of the paisanos themselves? 
This would give the book much of the appeal of the Gesta 
Romanorum, those outrageous tales with monkish morals 
appended, or of the Song of Solomon in the King James ver- 
sion, with the delightful chapter headings which go to prove 
that the Shulamite is in reality Christ’s Church. 

It would not be as sharp as this of course. But the little 
dialogue, if it came between the incidents would at least 
make clear the form of the book, its tragi-comic theme. It 
would also make clear and sharp the strong but different 
philosophic-moral system of these people. I don’t intend to 
make the parallel of the round table more clear, but simply 
to show that a cycle is there. You will remember that the 
association forms, flowers and dies. Far from having a hard 
theme running through the book, one of the intents is to show 
that rarely does any theme in the lives of these people sur- 
vive the night. 

I shall be anxious to know your reaction to the Communist 
idea [which was to become In Dubious Battle]. 

Thank you for your letter. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


97 



The problem of the theme of Tortilla Flat was 
solved by chapter headings that clarified the moral 
points, and by one sentence in the Preface: 

“For Danny’s house was not unlike the Round Table, 
and Danny’s friends were not unlike the knights of 
it.” 


To George Albee 


[Pacific Grove] 
January 15 [1935] 

Dear George: 

This is the first time I have felt that I could take the time 
to write and also that I have had anything to say to anything 
except my manuscript book. You remember I had an idea 
that I was going to write the autobiography of a Communist. 
Then Miss McIntosh suggested that I reduce it to fiction. 
There lay the trouble. I had planned to write a journalistic 
account of a strike. But as I thought of it as fiction the thing 
got bigger and bigger. It couldn’t be that. I’ve been living 
with this thing for some time now. I don’t know how much 
I have got over, but I have used a small strike in an orchard 
valley as the symbol of man’s eternal, bitter warfare with 
himself. 

I’m not interested in strike as means of raising men’s 
wages, and I’m not interested in ranting about justice and 
oppression, mere outcroppings which indicate the condition. 
But man hates something in himself. He has been able to 
defeat every natural obstacle but himself he cannot win over 
unless he Mils every individual. And this self-hate which 
goes so closely in hand with self-love is what I wrote about. 
The book is brutal. I wanted to be merely a recording con- 
sciousness, judging nothing, simply putting down the thing. 
I think it has the thrust, almost crazy, that mobs have. It is 
written in disorder. 

In the God I strove for a serene movement like the move- 
ment of the year and the turn of the seasons, in this I wanted 

98 



to get over unrest and irritation and slow sullen movement 
breaking out now and then in fierce eruptions. And so I have 
used a jerky method. I ended the book in the middle of a 
sentence. There is a cycle in the life of a man but there is no 
ending in the life of Man. I tried to indicate this by stopping 
on a high point, leaving out any conclusion. 

The book is disorder, but if it should ever come to you to 
read, listen to your own thoughts when you finish it and see 
if you don’t find in it a terrible order, a frightful kind of 
movement. The talk, and the book is about eighty percent 
dialogue, is what is usually called vulgar. I have worked 
along with working stiffs and I have rarely heard a sentence 
that had not some bit of profanity in it. And in books I am sick 
of the noble working man talking very like a junior college 
professor. I don’t know what will become of this book. It may 
be too harsh for anyone to buy. It is not controversial enough 
to draw the support of either the labor or the capital side 
although either may draw controversial conclusions from it, 
I suppose. It will take about a month to whip it into shape for 
sending. If you see Miss McIntosh will you tell her? I should 
have it off by the fifteenth of February. 

It is called Dubious Battle from the lines in the first part 
of the argument of Paradise Lost: 

Innumerable force of Spirits armed, 

That durst dislike his reign, and, me preferring. 

His utmost power with adverse power opposed 
In Dubious Battle on the plains of Heaven, 

And shook His throne. What though the field be lost? 

All is not lost — the unconquerable will. 

And study of revenge, immortal hate. 

And courage never to submit or yield: 

And what is else not to be overcome? 

I was very near collapse when I finished this afternoon. But 
I’ve been thinking and dreaming it for some months now. 
Only the mechanical revision is needed. It won’t take much 
polish. It isn’t that kind of a book. 

I suppose in a few days I’ll get out of this lost feeling. Just 
now I feel that I have come up out of a deep deUrium. I must 
put in the beginning of this book a guarantee that all persons 
places and events are fictional because it all has happened 
and I don’t want anybody hurt because of my retelling. Lord, 
I hope it has in it one tenth of the stuff I tried to put in it. Can’t 
tell. Can’t ever tell. People who are easily revolted shouldn’t 
read it. Oh! what the hell. I’m just talking on. And I’m too 


99 



tired to be writing a letter. I’ve written thirty thousand words 
in the last eight days. I’ll finish this letter later. I’m going for 
a walk down by the water. 


It is the next day. I am luxuriating in laziness, with a fine 
sense of sin, too, but shall get back to work tomorrow. I got 
rid of most of the tiredness last night and with the help of a 
little glass of very nice chartreuse, which beverage I love. 
The first part of this letter is rather frantic. 

Carol’s mother sent her an insurance policy to bury Carol 
in case of her death. It has brightened our whole day. Had 
been intended as a Christmas present but got delayed. It 
would have made a nice Christmas present, don’t you think? 

The sun is shining so nice. One of Ed’s collectors got very 
drunk in the lab the night before last and tipped over a mu- 
seum jar, left his pants and shoes and disappeared. Ed was 
angry. The next morning the collector Gabe came in in a long 
overcoat and a pair of rubber boots. Ed said, “I should think 
you could at least keep sober on the job.” And Gabe who was 
very friendly put his arms around Ed and said, “Eddie, I 
know I have a bawling out coming and I forgive you.” “For- 
give, hell!” yells Ed. “Now Eddie, don’t think you can embar- 
rass me,” Gabe says. He turns around and spreads the tails 
of the overcoat, showing that he had on a pair of blue jeans 
in which there is no seat and exposed is a large pink tocus. 
Gabe says, “Eddie, I’ve been visiting people like this. If I can 
do that, you couldn’t possibly embarrass me and I forgive you 
for trying.” Ed got down from his chair and everybody had 
a drink. Ed says, “What can you do with a man like that?” 

Ed is fine. And he is feeling pretty fine now too. He was over 
yesterday afternoon. This is a long letter, I guess. All about 
me. I haven’t had such a going over for some time. I like this 
typewriter. It is very fast. I see a cat. You see two cats. Who 
are the cats. That will be all, sir. You can just take this letter 
out and put it in an envelope if that’s the way you feel. No 
tricks, sir. We have our standards and by God sir, no wart hog 
like you is going to lower them. 

I beg your pardon 
for being, 

sincerely yours 


Rabbit Steinbeck 


lOO 



The next letter marks Steinbeck’s first mention of 
Pascal Covici, then publisher and editor of the firm 
of Covici-Friede. He would be friend and editor till 
his death. Originally, Ben Abramson, a bookdealer 
in Chicago, had called his attention to the young 
writer and to the two novels he had already pub- 
lished. 


To George Albee 


[Pacific Grove] 

[1935] 

Dear George: 

The book came this morning two days after your letter [an 
advance copy of Albee’s novel Not in a Day, published by 
Knopf]. It found us in a mad manuscript period. Carol batting 
out finished copy like mad [of In Dubious Battle]. But I’m 
letting her read the book first. She takes little rests and 
plunges into it and lets out bellows of laughter. I envy both 
her and you. She reads very fast and I read very slowly. She’ll 
be through with it tonight. So I shall only start this letter and 
finish it when I have read Not in a Day. I don’t like the dust 
jacket. Saving the back flap, I burned it. But I think the bind- 
ing and boards and set up and printing is superb. Knopf does 
that sort of thing so darned well. 

Yesterday I went collecting with Ed. The first time I had 
been out in a long time. It is fine spring now and I enjoyed 
it a lot. Went over to Santa Cruz. Carol wouldn’t go because 
she was typing and wouldn’t take the time off. It would have 
done her good. But we’re broke now and one hamburger was 
all we could afford. I had been working longer than she had 
so I took the day off. Today back at revising and proofreading. 
I’m making dumplings for dinner. I hope they’re good. It’s a 
dirty shame Carol has to work so hard. She’s putting in nine 
hours a day at it. I wish I could do it but my t5Tping is so very 
lousy. 

I had a letter from Covici which sounded far from over- 
enthusiastic. I liked it. It gave me some confidence in the 

lOI 



man. I like restraint. Covici says, “I am interested in your 
work and would like to arrive at an agreement with Miss 
McIntosh.” My estimation of him went up immediately. It is 
nice to know that he is more enthusiastic than that, of course. 
This morning I got applications on the Phelan Award sent at 
your request. I shall probably fill out the blank and send it in. 
I don’t know whom to get to sponsor me but maybe I’ll think 
of some one. That’s all for now. 

Now it’s Monday morning. Carol has gone to work for the 
S.E.R.A. [State Emergency Relief Administration.] Poor kid 
has to put in six hours there and then come home and type 
ms. She has nearly two hundred pages yet to do. What a job. 
She is taking it awfully well as usual. 

I read Not in a Day last night. Finished it about three this 
morning. I don’t know whether it is high or low comedy but 
I do know it’s awfully funny. My own work seems stodgy and 
heavy by comparison. I hope you will read Tortilla Flat some 
time. That is neither heavy nor stodgy. Anyway I’m glad you 
wrote this book and I am convinced that it will release you 
from the necessities for working on fan magazines. I hope it 
sells a million copies. Congratulations. 

I have a great deal of proof reading and correction to do 
and besides that I am doing the house and the cooking and 
bedmaking. So I’ll sign ofp. But I am pleased with Not in a 
Day. Don’t let it make a slave of you. I mean, if it sells well, 
people will want another just like it, and don’t let them have 
it. For right at that point of capitulation is the decision 
whether the public is going to rule you or you your public. 

I simply have to go to work. Goodbye. You have compli- 
mented me greatly by sending the book. 

jon 


The sponsor he chose for the Phelan Award was Ann 
Hadden, then librarian of the Palo Alto Public Li- 
brary. She had known him since his boyhood in Sali- 
nas. 

It has been pointed out that Steinbeck had a unique 
and personal way with official correspondence, of 


102 



which he was to write a great deal in the time to 
come. This is the earliest sample. 


To Ann Hadden 


Pacific Grove 

[1935] 

Dear Miss Hadden: 

Thank you very much for your offer to help. I shall explain 
the situation. The James Phelan Award for Literature is 
coming due, and a friend sent me an application. It is only 
open to natives of the state. Now there is one space on the 
application after the following demand: Give names of three 
persons competent in your field and acquainted with you 
personally to whom the Trustees may apply for confidential 
information about your qualifications for the fellowship. 

What confidential material they could wish I don’t know. 
Possibly about my habits. I’m afraid you don’t know much 
about those. I will tell you. 

I have all the vices in a very mild way except that of nar- 
cotics, unless coffee and tobacco are classed as narcotics. I 
have been in jail once for a night a long time ago, a result of 
a combination of circumstance, exuberance and a reason- 
able opinion that I could lick a policeman. The last turned 
out to be undemonstrable. I don’t think the trustees would be 
interested, but they might. I am married and quarrel vio- 
lently with my wife and we both enjoy it very much. And last, 
I am capable of a tremendous amount of work. I have just 
finished a novel of a hundred and twenty thousand words, 
three drafts in a little over four months. 

I am embarrassed for having to ask any one to vouch for 
me. It seems to me it would be better if I could simply submit 
a book and be judged upon the strength of it. 

I have a long and very different novel nearly ready to write 
but I have thought I would have to put it off until I had laid 
aside enough money to allow for no interruption. This award 
is for one thousand dollars. It runs for one year but since we 


103 



ordinarily live on four hundred a year, the money would let 
me do what I really want to and what the thesis of the novel 
really deserves, that is take two full years to the work. 

I hope this will not cause you to go to any great trouble. I 
have little hope of being awarded this fellowship. But since 
it is rather easy to do, I think I shall, if you are willing to help 
me. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


His letter succeeded in eliciting her sponsorship. In 
writing to the administration of the Phelan Award, 
she said: 

“After he left home for college I saw very little of 
him, but kept in touch through his parents and 
friends. 

“The library of which I was in charge helped him 
through correspondence with research one winter 
for his Cup of Gold which he was writing while 
snowed in at Lake Tahoe. 

“In my opinion John Steinbeck has decided creative 
literary ability; his development being quite marked 
from his first novel Cup of Gold through Pastures of 
Heaven to his recent book To A God Unknown. I 
believe he has the qualification in personality and 
character to justify an investment in his future edu- 
cation.” 

He did not win the award. 


104 



To Mavis McIntosh 


Pacific Grove 
February 4, 1935 

Dear Miss McIntosh: 

Herewith the signed contracts [for Tortilla Flat]. They 
seem fine to me. Thank you. You have been very good to me. 

We’ll get the new book off to you about the fifteenth. Ti- 
tle has been slightly changed to include one more word, 
In Dubious Battle. Much better sound and also gives a 
kind of an active mood to the thing. I guess it is a brutal 
book, more brutal because there is no author’s moral point 
of view. The speech of working men may seem a little bit 
racy to ladies’ clubs, but, since ladies’ clubs won’t believe 
that such things go on anyway, it doesn’t matter. I know 
this speech and I’m sick of working men being gelded of 
their natural expression until they talk with a fine Ox- 
onian flavor. 

There are curious things about the language of working 
men. I do not mean the local idioms, but the speech which 
is universal in this country among traveling workers. Nearly 
every man uses it individually, but it has universal rules. It 
is not grammatical error but a highly developed speech 
form. The use of the final g in ing is tricky, too. The g is put 
on for emphasis and often to finish a short hard sentence. It 
is sometimes used for purpose of elision but not always. Cer- 
tain words like “something” rarely lose the final g or if they 
do, the word becomes “somepin” or “somepm.” A man who 
says thinkin’ will say morning if it comes on the end of a 
sentence. I tell you these things so you will understand why, 
in one sentence having two present participles, one g will be 
there and the other left off. This is a pretty carefully done ms. 
If you will read such a sentence over, aloud, you will see that 
it naturally falls that way. 

I hardly expect you to like the book. I don’t like it. It is 
terrible. But I hope when you finish it, in the disorder you 
will feel a terrible kind of order. Stories begin and wander 
out of the picture; faces look in and disappear and the 

105 



book ends with no finish. A story of the life of a man ends 
with his death, but where can you end a story of man- 
movement that has no end? No matter where you stop 
there is always more to come. I have tried to indicate this 
by stopping on a high point but it is by no means an end- 
ing. 

I hope Mr. Covici will be interested in this book. I am very 
tired. This has been completed quickly. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


To Wilbur Needham 

STAFF BOOK CRITIC FOR THE LOS ANGELES TIMES 


Pacific Grove 
[Early 1935] 

Dear Mr. Needham: 

I am grateful to you for your active interest. It is only a few 
weeks ago that we heard that Covici-Friede had conceived a 
rather frantic regard for my work to the extent that he 
[Covici] has contracted for all of it and is going to reissue 
some of the old ones. He is bringing out one in May called 
Tortilla Flat and possibly this one we are now on earlier. It 
is called In Dubious Battle. 

I am very much pleased of course. We have been very 
close to the end these last couple of years. Thank you for 
your trouble. You see, it is not needed now, I mean of 
course, the finding of a publisher. Ballou is a fine man 
and a sensitive man but I do not think he is fitted to 
fight the battle of New York. He is a gentleman. He 
can’t bring himself to do the things required for suc- 
cess. 

I should like to discuss with you a plan of work so difficult 
that it will take several years to do and so uncharted that 
I will have to remake the novel as it is now understood to 
make it a vehicle. I want to go to Mexico to do it and it may 
be that we shall be able to go this summer. I hope so, for I 

106 




am anxious to get at it before very long. 

I hope you will come up to see us when you can. 


Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


When he sent the manuscript of In Dubious Battle 
to McIntosh and Otis, he reminded Miss McIntosh 
that if Covici refused the book in the contracted 
time, he had had other offers, and besides: 

. . you will find a well-aroused interest in my 
work both at Houghton, Mifflin and at Random 
House.” 


To Mavis McIntosh 


Pacific Grove 
[April] 1935 

Dear Miss McIntosh: 

I confess that I am deeply shocked at the attitude of 
Covici, not from pique but because it is a perfect example 
of the attitude which makes the situation in I. D. B. what it 
is. Does no one in the world want to see and judge this 
thing coldly? Answering the complaint that the ideology is 
incorrect, this is the silliest of criticism. There are as many 
communist systems as there are communists. It should be 
obvious from the book that not only is this true, but that the 
ideologies change to fit a situation. In this book I was mak- 
ing nothing up. In any statement by one of the protagonists 
I have simply used statements I have heard used. Answer- 
ing the second criticism that the book would be attacked by 
both sides, I thoroughly anticipated such attack in trying to 


107 


do an unbiased book. And if attack has ever hurt the sale of 
a book I have yet to hear of it. 

That is the trouble with the damned people of both sides. 
They postulate either an ideal communist or a thoroughly 
damnable communist and neither side is willing to suspect 
that the communist is a human, subject to the weaknesses of 
humans and to the greatnesses of humans. I am not angry in 
the least. But the blank wall of stupid refusal even to look at 
the thing without colored glasses of some kind gives me a 
feeling of overwhelming weariness and a desire to run away 
and let them tear their stupid selves to pieces. If the fools 
would only change the name from Communist to, say, 
American Liberty Party, their principles would probably be 
embraced overnight. 

I guess this is slopping over enough. I am sorry that the 
book cannot go through. I would do it just the same again. I 
suppose in the event of an English sale, the censor would 
clean up my carefully built American language. 

As for submitting another book to Covici — you will do as 
you think best about that. I am so tired. I have worked for so 
long against opposition, first of my parents who wanted me 
to be a lawyer and then of publishers who want me to be 
anything but a writer, that I work well under opposition. If 
ever I had things my own way I would probably go dry. This 
will knock out all plans of going to Mexico I guess. I had 
hoped to be able to start off the big book which would take 
a long time and would be a very grave attempt to do a first- 
rate piece of work. However, Covici should know saleability, 
and obviously I don’t. Oh, the devil. We’ve managed to live 
thus far and write what we want to write. We can probably 
go on doing it. 

Right today I am discouraged. I won’t be tomorrow. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


Now the correspondence, excepting a few letters to 
other members of the agency, begins to focus on 

io8 



Elizabeth Otis. She became, as will be evident, far 
more than a literary representative. He was soon, 
and always, to trust her as mentor, guide, friend, and 
confidante. 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Pacific Grove 
May 13, 1935 

Dear Miss Otis: 

I have your letter this morning, also two from C-F [Covici- 
Friede]. 

Mr. Latham of Macmillan’s came to see me. Asked if I were 
tied to C-F. I said they had just rejected a book. He said he 
wanted to see it and I told him to apply to you. 

Let me say at the beginning of this paragraph that 1 would 
rather stay with Covici-Friede than anyone I know. 1 like the 
way they have worked on Tortilla and I like their makeup 
and everything about them. This letter this morning from 
them offers to publish I. D. B. if I wish it. Of course I wish it. 
It is a good book. I believe in it, and damn it, we’re living on 
relief. Why wouldn’t I want to publish it? 


Shortly before he had written to Miss Otis: 

“In any re-revision of I. D. B. I hope that you will tell 
Mr. Covici that neither theme nor point of view will 
be changed. It might also be well to remind them 
that an advance is due upon acceptance, an advance 
which would do much to make my life a merrier 
affair.” 


Let’s get to this rejection now. I had a letter, unfortunately 
destroyed, in which they said they didn’t want to print the 
book and they gave three pages of reasons for not wanting to 
print it. Between you and me I suspect a strong communist 
bias in that office, since the reasons given against the book 
are all those I have heard from communists of the intellec- 


109 



tual bent and of the Jewish race. Do you think I am right? My 
information for this book came mostly from Irish and Italian 
communists whose training was in the field, not in the draw- 
ing room. They don’t believe in ideologies and ideal tactics. 
They do what they can under the circumstances. 

I’m a bit twisted. My father went into his fatal illness two 
days ago. We don’t know whether it will be a week, or as it 
was with my mother, ten or eleven months. It is the same 
thing. Cerebral leakage. I have been running back and forth 
to Watsonville [where Esther Steinbeck Rodgers, Steinbeck’s 
sister, lived] so often that I am bewildered and possibly not 
coherent. Anyway, I hope this is a satisfactory letter in some 
respects. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


To Elizabeth Bailey 


POSTCARD TO STEINBECK’S GODMOTHER 

[Pacific Grove] 
May [1935] 

Dear Miss Bailey: 

It was a lovely letter. 

At first I thought I should send the ten dollars back to you 
but I won’t. I have no place to work. When I do work which 
is most of the time — Carol has to creep around. For a long 
time I’ve wanted to build a little work room in the back yard, 
using second hand lumber. Ten dollars will do it. Thank you. 

I should have preferred no service at all for Dad. I can 
think of nothing for him so eloquent as silence. Poor silent 
man all his life. I feel very badly, not about his death, but 
about his life, for he told me only a few months ago that he 
had never done anything he wanted to do. Worst of all he 
hadn’t done the work he wanted to do. 

Come some time and see the new work room. 

love 

John 

no 



To Elizabeth Otis 


Pacific Grove 
June 13, 1935 

Dear Miss Otis: 

If you have anything of mine the New Yorker could use, 
fine. The only things I can think of are the short things like 
the Vigilante or possibly St. Katy which I would like to make 
someone print. I’m not being cocky but I have never written 
“for” a magazine and shan’t start now. 

One very funny thing. Hotel clerks here are being in- 
structed to tell guests that there is no Tortilla Flat. The 
Chamber of Commerce does not like my poor efforts, I guess. 
But there is one all right, they know it. 

My father’s death doesn’t change any plans but does give 
us freedom of movement for the first time in three years. I 
can’t get used to having no illness in the family. 

While I think of it — I am very much opposed to drawing 
money from any publisher for work that has not been done. 
I’d much rather have less and have it without any obligation. 
The idea of a salary doesn’t appeal to me at all. I intend to 
write what I want to. 

The publicity on TF [Tortilla Flat] is rather terrible out 
here and we may have to run ahead of it. Please ask CF 
[Covici-Friede] not to give my address to anyone. Curious that 
this second-rate book, written for relaxation, should cause 
this fuss. People are actually taking it seriously. 

I had an awfully nice letter from Bob Ballou. Wish I could 
have stayed with him but I’m so awfully sick of not being 
able to have shoes half-soled. 

In your dealings you need make no compromise at all for 
financial considerations as far as we are concerned. Too 
many people are trapped into promises by gaudy offers. And 
my father’s estate, while small, will keep us for a number of 
years if necessary. And we’ve gone through too damned 
inuch trying to keep the work honest and in a state of im- 
provement to let it slip now in consideration of a little miser- 
able popularity. I’m scared to death of popularity. It has 

ni 




ruined everyone I know. That’s one of the reasons I would 
like In Dubious Battle printed next. Myths form quickly and 
I want no tag of humorist on me, nor any other kind. Besides, 
IDB would reduce popularity to nothing but I do think it 
would sell. 

I suppose it is bad tactics but I am refusing the usual things 
— the radio talks, the autograph racket, the author’s after- 
noons and the rest of the clutter— politely, I hope, but firmly. 

Will Heinemann buy TF? [This is the British publishing 
house which would publish all Steinbeck’s work.] I suppose 
To A God Unknown failed miserably in England as it did 
here. 

By the way, the rainy season is on in Mexico now. We can’t 
go until August I guess, if then. I’ll leave this open in case 
anything else occurs to me. 

That’s all, 

John Steinbeck 


In the O. Henry Prize Stories 0/1934 which “The 
Murder” had appeared, Steinbeck, reading over the 
competition, had come on a story by Louis Paul, and 
had written George Albee: 

“Look out for a young man named Louis Paul, who 
wrote a story in the O. Henry collection, magnifi- 
cent. That boy is going to do things.” 


112 



To Louis Paul 


POSTCARD 


Pacific Grove 
[Late summer 1935] 

Dear Louis Paul: 

It was good of you to write. I like that. The odd thing is that 
since I read Jedworth I’ve had a strong impulse to write to 
you. That was one of the finest stories I ever read. Publishers 
are all right. They are the natural enemies, though. The 
wildcats to us quail. 

I’m a couple of books ahead — not because I write so quickly 
but because I’m published so slowly. We’re planning to drive 
to Mexico soon. 

I wish you lived closer. I’d like to talk to you. God willing 
I’ll never go east again. Don’t worry about my making 
money. I haven’t the gift. 

Anyway, it was swell of you to write. I wish you would 
again. 

John Steinbeck 


To Mavis McIntosh 


Pacific Grove 
July 30, 1935 

Dear Miss McIntosh: 

Your letter and enclosed contracts came today. It is rather 
sad that now I am being deluged with offers of a lot of nice 
people who want to be my business representatives, who 
assure me that they can make more money for me than you 
are making. And finally who completely fail to understand 
that I am extremely happy where I am. I don’t want to make 
much money and I like this contract. Please assure Mr. 

113 


Covici that I am awfully pleased to stay under his imprint. 
I enclose both copies of the contract. 

Rather an amusing episode. There is a little magazine here 
run in conjunction with a stable. I gave them a story which 
Miss Otis had sent back as “outrageous” in return for six 
months use of a beautiful big bay hunter anytime I want 
him, day or night. I send you the title page of the story and 
guarantee you ten percent of six months riding but you will 
have to come here to get it. I should like that very much 
indeed. I haven’t had a horse in years and am utterly de- 
lighted at this trade. 


The “little magazine” was the Monterey Beacon, 
and the story, which would become one of Stein- 
beck’s most famous, was “The Snake.” After the suc- 
cess of In Dubious Battle and Of Mice and Men, 
Esquire published it in 1938, and in the same year it 
appeared in the short story collection. The Long Val- 
ley. 


I have no idea how Tortilla Flat is selling. It has made a lot 
of noise out here, but whether it was just noise or not I have 
no idea. I wonder whether you can give me an idea of its sale 
so I can see whether royalties on that book will cover the 
Mexican journey. 

There were some shorts with you. I have had several letters 
from editors wanting them. I have referred them to you. I 
like some of those stories. 

I’ll be very glad to see Mr. Covici when he comes out here. 
If he is alone we shall be happy to have him stay here. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


To Louis Paul 


[Pacific Grove] 
[September 1935] 

Dear Louis Paul: 

Thanks awfully for the copy of Jedwick. Did I call him 
Jedworth? 

You ask why I don’t take Hollywood’s filthy money. No- 
body’s asked me, sir. I like to think I wouldn’t take it but I 
probably would. I’ve been around there quite a bit and I 
dislike it so much that I wouldn’t want to. On the other hand 
we’ve been so filthy broke for so long that I would probably 
go nuts if anyone waved a ten dollar bill. Aren’t these nice 
straight lines? There’s a lined sheet underneath. 

All is fuss in this house. We’re starting for Mexico next 
week and there’s the packing of thousands of doll rags. Our 
Ford is a wreck but under the hood is an overhauled engine 
and the tires are new. Yesterday by the use of oratory I didn’t 
know I could use, I persuaded a bank to declare me solvent. 
And I had the local federal judge swear that I had no Syrian, 
Armenian, Asiatic or negro blood. As our local Mexican con- 
sul says, “Sumteems dose pipples doon’t kips the law.” 

I heard the other day that Covici is reissuing my two ear- 
lier books that failed so miserably. They were better books 
than this last one too but no one would read them — wurra 
wurra. 

We have a small sail boat here and hate to leave it but we 
must and it will keep for us. 

I wish I could send you a copy of T. F. but I haven’t any. 
Couldn’t you steal one? If you buy one you will be the first 
genuine purchaser I know. 

I don’t know how long we’ll be away. Maybe six months, 
maybe two years. 

I’m very grateful for the copy of Jedworth. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 



In September Miss McIntosh wired Steinbeck in 
Mexico that the firm had sold the picture rights to 
Tortilla Flat. 

“It is rather amusing what the Mexican operator 
must have thought of your wire,” Steinbeck replied. 
“ ‘4000 dollars for Tortilla.’ Probably thought it was 
either a code word or a race horse.” 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Manchester 8 
Mexico D. F. 
November 3 [1935] 

Dear Miss Otis; 

I really should have wired an appreciation of your wire but 
wires are expensive. Your letter came this morning. Maybe 
with this security I can write a better book. Maybe not. Cer- 
tainly though I can take a little longer and write a more 
careful one. And it will be possible to contemplate an illness 
without panic. I do not see what even Hollywood can make 
of Tortilla with its episodic treatment, but let them try and 
I won’t go to their picture so that is all right. On an average 
I go to about one picture a year. 

Our plans are fairly jelled by now. I think we will start for 
home about the seventh of January. I don’t get any work done 
here. It would be possible to place a blame but it would be 
more an excuse, I guess. Anyway I can work at home and 
that’s where we will go. Bad news the other day. Our boat 
broke its moorings and drifted and was salvaged and the 
salvage award was so much that we will have to sell the boat 
to pay it and come out clear. I don’t care much. It was our first 
experience in owning anything and a lesson. We will not own 
anything except the cottage and the necessary and small 
automobile again. We knew we shouldn’t anyway. Maybe a 
dog. 

It is funny that the Irish Free State has me on the censored 
list. If they knew that my parentage was pure Ulster, they 

116 




would all the more. The dirty rednecks. Let them be reading 
their beads and their stomachs full of whiskey, and let them 
parade under the sun with the chests of them stuck out and 
their knives between the two shoulders of good men and the 
dark come. What did they but run off the stern tip of Ireland 
like the rats they are and Orange after them. Free State in- 
deed, and ask any one of the itching devils are they free of 
the gray crawlers under their shirts? 

I don’t know what it means to be on the bottom of a best 
seller list. Is it two thousand copies or five or ten? In writing 
to Mr. Covici I asked him, but have had no answer. Thank 
you again for your letter and its news. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


To George Albee 


[Mexico] 

[1935] 

Dear George: 

I am not proud of this sale of Tortilla to pictures but we’ll 
slap it into government bonds which are cashable and forget 
about it. It won’t be much when we get it what with splits 
with Covici and agents’ fees but it will be a nest egg. The old 
standard of living stays right where it has always been. 

The air down here has a feel, you can feel its texture on 
your finger tips and on your Ups. It is like water. 

Carol is having a marvelous time. The people like her and 
she them. Wherever she goes, howls of laughter follow. Yes- 
terday in Tolucca market, she wanted to fill out her collec- 
tion of pottery animals. She went to a puesta and said I want 
a bull (quiero un toro). That means I want a stud, colloqui- 
ally. The whole market roared. Most of her pottery animals 
have flowers painted on them. The rat, instead of being em- 
barrassed pointed to me and said, Segura, tengo un toro pero 
el no tiene flores en el estomago (sure I have a bull but he has 
no flowers on his stomach). Then the market just fell to 



pieces. You could hear the roars of laughter go down the 
street as each person was told the story. Half an hour later 
they were still laughing. And when Carol bargains, a crowd 
collects. Indians from the country stand with their mouths 
open. The thing goes from gentle to fury to sorrow to despair. 
And everyone loves it. The seller as much as any one. 

My own bargaining yesterday was triumphant. The ordi- 
nary method is to run the product down, to be horrified at the 
badness of the work or the coarseness of the weave or the 
muddiness of the colors. But I reversed it. One serape priced 
at fifteen pesos I said was too beautiful. That it was impossi- 
ble to give it a value in money because it was beyond any 
offer at all — ^by that time the duenno was nearly in tears. 
However I was a poor man and if ten pesos might be ac- 
cepted, not as payment for the beautiful thing but as a token 
of esteem, I would take the thing and love it all my life. The 
method aroused so much enthusiasm not only with the 
duenno but with the collected market crowd, that I got it for 
ten without even a squeak. That will be a story in the market 
too. I like what one market woman said to Carol. Carol said, 
I would like to buy this but I am not rich. And the market 
woman — ^you have shoes and a hat, of course you are rich. 

Oh this is enough of a letter and I want to go to the roof. 

love to annie 

john 


To Joseph Henry Jackson 

BOOK REVIEWER FOR THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE 


Pacific Grove 

[1935] 

Dear Joe: 

I feel very bad about this Commonwealth Club award [for 
Tortilla Flat], I don’t know who offered the book in competi- 
tion. I assure you that the refusal to go isn’t the small mean 
thing it seems. I would like you to know exactly why I can’t go. 

118 



Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. The 
most I have had to dodge has been a literary tea or an invita- 
tion from a book shop to lecture and autograph. This is the 
first and God willing the last prize I shall ever win. 

The whole early part of my life was poisoned with egotism, 
a reverse egotism, of course, beginning with self-conscious- 
ness. And then gradually I began to lose it. 

In the last few books I have felt a curious richness as 
though my life had been multiplied through having become 
identified in a most real way with people who were not me. 
I have loved that. And I am afraid, terribly afraid, that if the 
bars ever go down, if I become a trade mark, I shall lose the 
ability to do that. When I do I shall stop working because it 
won’t be fun any more. The work has been the means of 
making me feel that I am living richly, diversely, and, in a 
few cases and for a few moments, even heroically. All of 
these things are not me, for I am none of these things. But 
sometimes in my own mind at least I can create something 
which is larger and richer than I am. In this aspect I suppose 
my satisfaction is much like that of a father who sees his son 
succeed where he has failed. Not being brave I am glad when 
I can make a brave person whom I believe in. 

I am very glad that the book got the prize, but I want it to 
be the book, not me. Those people in that book were very dear 
to me, but I feel that if I should accept a reward which in this 
case belongs to Danny and Pilon and the rest, I should not 
only be cheating them, but cheating them should cut myself 
off from their society forever. 

This is not clear, concise, objective thinking, but I have 
never been noted for any of these things. If I were a larger 
person I would be able to do this and come out of it un- 
touched. But I am not. 

And will you help me out of it? Will you please present the 
committee as much or as little explanation as you think wise 
or necessary? I don’t know. I have no social gifts and practi- 
cally no social experience. 

Mean while, don’t think too harshly of me for this bolt. I 
hate to run away but I feel that the whole future working life 
is tied up in this distinction between work and person. And 
while this whole argument may seem specious, I assure you 
it is heartfelt. 

Regards 

John 


119 



While awaiting public and press reaction to In 
Dubious Battle, Steinbeck began preliminary work 
on the novel that was to become Of Mice and Men. 


To Louis Paul 


[Pacific Grove] 
[February 1936] 

Dear Louis Paul: 

I don’t like communists either, I mean I dislike them as 
people. I rather imagine the apostles had the same waspish 
qualities and the New Testament is proof that they had 
equally bad manners. But this dislike is personal. I never 
knew D. H. Lawrence either. The whole idea of the man 
turns my stomach. But he was a good writer, and some of 
these communist field workers are strong, pure, inhumanly 
virtuous men. Maybe that’s another reason I personally dis- 
like them and thax does not redound to my credit. However, 
that’s not important. 

I haven’t an idea what the press will do, nor do I much care. 
I have enough money now to live and write for three years 
if we are careful and I can get a hell of a lot of words down 
in three years. 

You ask why you never see my stuff in Esquire. I guess they 
were never interested. I have a good many stories in New 
York but no one wants them. I wrote 9 short stories at one 
sitting recently. I thought some of them were pretty good, too, 
but that’s as far as it got. The North American Review used 
to print some at 30 dollars a crack. 

I have to start [writing] and am scared to death as usual — 
miserable sick feeling of inadequacy. I’ll love it once I get 
down to work. Hope you’ll be out before too long. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


120 



To Louis Paul 


[Pacific Grove] 
[March 1936] 

Dear Louis Paul: 

I’ve started to answer a letter from you for quite a long 
time. This morning your enclosures came. I had not seen 
Mary Ann McCarthy’s review in the Nation [of In Dubious 
Battle], I’m sorry to see that, like her famous namesake, she 
didn’t get a goddam clam. The pain occasioned by this re- 
view is to some extent mitigated by the obvious fact that she 
understood Caesar’s Commentaries as little as my poor 
screed, that she doesn’t know her Plato very well, and that 
she hasn’t the least idea of what a Greek drama is. Seriously 
what happened is this — Mary Ann reviewed Tortilla Flat, 
saying that I had overlooked the fact that these paisanos 
were proletariats. Joseph Henry Jackson, critic on the S. F. 
Chronicle took her review and played horse with it. So Mary 
Ann lay in ambush for me to give me my come-uppance. And 
boy, did she give it to me. Wurra! Wurra! 

I’m looking forward to seeing you this spring. And since 
I’m stuck here until I finish this job that really isn’t begun, 
I hope you’ll be able to come through our way. It’s desper- 
ately beautiful now and will be more so in another month. 

Did you know that Herman Shumlin is to produce In Dubi- 
ous Battle as a play in the fall? That’s what I hear anyway. 
Mary Ann will be glad. 

What will you be doing — working in Hollywood? It’s time 
I got back to work. Thanks for the review. It shall be my 
inspiration. 

John Steinbeck 


121 




The Nation review of Tortilla Flat had said, among 
other things: 

“The subject matter of Tortilla Flat is surely grim 
enough, but Mr. Steinbeck’s approach to it is wholly 
in the light-hearted, fantastic tradition; it suggests 
such novels as Vile Bodies and South Wind . . . 

“Mr. Steinbeck’s attempt to impose a mood of ur- 
bane and charming gaiety upon a subject which is 
perpetually at variance with it is graceful enough, 
but the odds are against him . . . 

“The situations are rife with possibilities which, de- 
spite the amount of indifference to them manifested 
by Mr. Steinbeck and his characters, it is not always 
easy to ignore.” 

Joseph Henry Jackson, “playing horse” with this re- 
view in the San Francisco Chronicle, referred to “a 
patronizing sneer from a reviewer afflicted with the 
class itch.” It was Steinbeck’s error to believe that 
this was Mary McCarthy, who had indeed written 
the review preceeding that of Tortilla Flat, and 
whose name appeared at the end of her review but 
ahead of the Tortilla Flat review, which, in fact, was 
written by one Helen Neville. Nevertheless, it was to 
mark the beginning of a feud that was to last the rest 
of Steinbeck’s life. 

Mary McCarthy, still in her early twenties and a 
recent graduate of Vassar, did review In Dubious 
Battle in The Nation under the title “Minority Re- 
port.” She called the work: “academic, wooden, inert 
. . . The dramatic events take place for the most part 
off-stage and are reported, as in the Greek drama, by 
a breathless observer. Mr. Steinbeck for all his long 
and frequently pompous exchanges offers only a few 
rather childish, often reiterated generalizations 
. . . He may be a natural story-teller; but he is cer- 
tainly no philosopher, sociologist, or strike techni- 
cian.” 

Whether this was the result of “lying in ambush to 
give me my come-uppance” is conjectural. But 
Steinbeck believed it was. 

As for Herman Shumlin’s projected production of In 
Dubious Battle, he contracted with John O’Hara to 
do the dramatization. In a letter to Elizabeth Otis, 
Steinbeck reported: 


123 



Now for the dramatic thing. John O’Hara stopped 
on his way to San Francisco. I do not know his work 
but I liked him and his attitude. I think we could get 
along well. I do not believe in collaboration. If he 
intention and theme of the book 
(and I am convinced that he will) I shall not inter- 
fere at all. He said he would come up in a month 
with some script to go over. I am pleased with him 
as the man to do the job.” 

Years later, O’Hara reminded Steinbeck of this 
meeting in characteristic style: 

“It is a warm and good friendship that began that 
warm afternoon in Pacific Grove, a.d. 1936, with 
some Mexican dish cooking on the stove, an English 
saddle hanging on a peg, your high school diploma 
on the wall, and you trying to explain about phalanx 
man.” 

But Steinbeck’s optimism about the In Dubious Bat- 
tle dramatization proved unjustified. As he wrote 
Elizabeth Otis later: 

“O’Hara has not answered my letter. Anyway, I 
started blocking I. D. B. several days ago, and today 
and yesterday finished the first scene. And it is lousy. 
It sounds just what it is — a re-hashed novel. No life 
— ^just dead. Maybe someone else can do it. This story 
was conceived in its present form. It is so real to me 
that when I compress, leave out incidents and cha- 
racters and scenes. I’m just lying about something 
that really happened.” 


To Louis Paul 


POSTCARD 

Pacific Grove 

[1936] 

Dear Louis Paul: 

I’m answering your letter in haste. After two months of 
fooling around my new work [Of Mice and Men] is reaUy 
going and that makes me very happy — ^kind of an excite- 


123 



ment like that you get near a dynamo from breathing 
pure oxygen and I’m not going Saroyan. Anyway this work 
is going quickly and should get done quickly. I’m using a 
new set of techniques as far as I know but I am so illy 
read that it may have been done. Not that that matters at 
all, except that the unexplored in method makes the job 
at once more difficult because I can’t tell what it will get 
over and more pleasant because it requires more care. I’m 
not interested in method as such but I am interested in 
having a vehicle exactly adequate to the theme. Enough 
of this, when the work is rolling it’s almost impossible not 
to be a bore. 

It is raining hard. The roof of my little house is roaring. 

I hope you do manage to come west. I’ll get back to 
work. 

John Steinbeck 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Pacific Grove 
May 27, 1936 

Dear Miss Otis: 

The check for $94 arrived. Thank you very much. I am 
enclosing the statement for your records. English criticism 
always amazes me, mostly because they consider us so for- 
eign. I never think of the English as so strange. There is a 
Mexican word — Americanado. It means literally Ameri- 
caned but by connotation queer, unusual, unpalatable, in- 
comprehensible, crazy. That is the way the English think of 
us too. 

Minor tragedy stalked. I don’t know whether I told you. My 
setter pup, left alone one night, made confetti of about half 
of my ms. book [Of Mice and Men]. Two months work to do 
over again. It sets me back. There was no other draft. I was 
pretty mad but the poor little fellow may have been acting 
critically. I didn’t want to ruin a good dog for a ms. I’m not 
sure is good at all. He only got an ordinary spanking with his 

124 



punishment flyswatter. But there’s the work to do over from 
the start. 

We’re putting up a little shack near Los Gatos to escape the 
nasty fogs that hang around here all summer. My wife is 
building it while I stay here and work. It will be ready in 
about a month and then I will go up there. I’ll send you the 
change of address when I know what it is. 

I should imagine the new little manuscript will be ready 
in about two months. I hope you won’t be angry at it. I think 
it has some thing, but can’t tell much yet. 

I’ll get this ofF. I hear the postman. 


John Steinbeck 





excitemeiit 
will rjever 
come agaiii” 





Steinbeck’s involvement with the lives of the mi- 
grant workers, which had already provided the sub- 
ject matter of In Dubious Battle, became even 
keener in his mid-thirties. During the summer of 
1936, he was visiting the Gridley Migrant Camp, 
north of Sacramento, when he replied to a letter 
from Lawrence Clark Powell, librarian emeritus of 
U.C.L.A: 

“I have to write this sitting in a ditch. I’ll be home 
in two or three weeks. I’m not working — ^may go 
south to pick a little cotton. All this, needless to say, 
is not for publication — migrants are going south 
now and I’ll probably go along. I enjoy it a lot.” 



Louis Paul 


POSTCARD 

[Pacific Grove] 

[1936] 

Dear Louis Paul; 

Awfully glad to get your letter. I’m very busy now. Doing 
a Nation article and a series for the S. F. News on migrant 
labor. I’ve been in the field for the last week. Finished my 
new little book [Of Mice and Men] and sent it oif a week and 
a half ago and of course have heard nothing from it. I don’t 
know whether it is any good or not. 

Down the country I discovered a book like nothing in the 
world. So I’ll be busy as a lamp bug for some months. I like 
to be busy. I’ve been gestating for too long. 

I have to write 3,000 words a day for the next five days 

129 



[“The Harvest Gypsies” for the San Francisco News]. So here 
goes. I’ll write you a letter as soon as the series is off. 

John 


The book he had “discovered” dealt with vigilantes. 


To Louis Paul 


POSTCARD 


Pacific Grove 

[1936] 

Dear Louis Paul: 

I’m delighted that you’re coming out. You’ll see the new 
house then. It is just being built now. It’s a very beautiful 
place. 

Let me know about when you will arrive so you won’t go 
looking over the whole state for me. 

You say you are afraid of symbols. But you see in this 
country the deep symbol of security is rain — water. And the 
symbol of evil is drought. There isn’t any twisting of symbols 
there. It’s a very real thing. My father lost nearly all his cattle 
in the year I was writing about. It’s a pretty awful thing to 
have your herd die of thirst and starvation. I was simply 
trying to reduce that pattern to utterance. 

I’m tied up in the new thing. It’s a most difficult thing. 

I’ll be awfully glad to see you. 

John Steinbeck 


130 



By midsummer the Steinbecks had moved to their 
new house in Los Gatos. 

They had seen Ted Miller in New York in the fall 
of 1935 when they had stopped there on their way 
home from Mexico to sign contracts with Para- 
mount Pictures for the film of Tortilla Flat. Later, 
Miller sent an accumulation of letters from the 
time when he had acted as Steinbeck’s ex-officio 
agent. 


To Amasa Miller 


Los Gatos, California 

[1936] 

Dear Ted: 

Thanks for the rejections. They still give me the shivers 
and always will. Each one was a little doom. Had a personal 
fight with each one. And it’s such a short time ago and it may 
be again. 

I’m awfully sorry in a way that I didn’t see you more when 
I was East. And in other ways I am glad. Lord how miserable 
and rushed and embarrassed I was. I don’t like it there. I 
liked it better before and God knows I hated it then. I’d much 
rather see you out here where I have leisure and quiet. We 
live two miles out of town on a hill and few people come here. 
They have to want to see us if they come because of the 
distance. There are no casuals. 

This isn’t a farm we’re on. Only two acres. We thought we’d 
get a farm but that takes attention and 1 have work to do and 
I don’t like to hire anyone if I can help it. I always feel too 
humble with hired people and it ends with me doing all the 
work. 

My God, what a nightmare this publicity is. I don’t mmd 
being a horse’s ass at all. Enjoy it in fact, but I do like to be 
my own kind — ^not that it’s a better kind but it s more com- 
fortable and I know it better. 



Don’t you ever come West? It will be a long time before I’m 
East again. 

bye and thanks again. 

John 


To George Albee 


[Los Gatos] 
[1936] 

Dear George: 

I seem to have a terrible time writing letters these days. I 
don’t know whether you know what a bomb California is 
right now or not. I can only assure you that it is highly explo- 
sive. I want to see it all and hear it all. 

I finished a little book sometime ago [Of Mice and Men], As 
usual it is disliked by some and liked by some. It is always 
that way. Covici likes it anyway. It is a tricky little thing 
designed to teach me to write for the theatre. Now I’m work- 
ing hard on another book which isn’t mine at all. I’m only 
editing it but it is a fine thing. A complete social study made 
of the weekly reports from a migrant camp. 

Then I did an article for the Nation and a series of articles 
for the News on migrant labor but the labor situation is so 
tense just now that the News is scared and won’t print the 
series. Any reference to labor except as dirty dogs is not 
printed by the big press out here. There are riots in Salinas 
and killings in the streets of that dear little town where I was 
born. I shouldn’t wonder if the thing had begun. I don’t mean 
any general revolt but an active beginning aimed toward it, 
the smouldering. 

I don’t know what you mean by taking to the woods. The 
woods aren’t going to save anyone. And if you want to run you 
had better start now because you aren’t going to have until 
the end of 1937. You have six months or at most a year. I am 
not speaking of revolution again, but war. Every news report 
verifies the speed with which it is coming. 

But enough of that sort of thing for the present. This 
132 



isn’t a new typewriter but we turned in all our old ones 
and got one that is rebuilt and it is a joy. All the type 
rightside up and the ribbon reverse works and everything. 
I have a little tiny room to work in. Just big enough for a 
bed and a desk and a gun rack and a little book case. I 
like to sleep in the room I work in. Just at present there is 
hammering going on. We are building on a guest room. 
We had none and really need one. It will have big glass 
doors and screens so that it will really be an outside porch 
when we want to open the doors. Dr. McDoughal of 
Carnegie was up the other day and told us we have six 
varieties of oaks on the place besides manzanita, madrone 
and toyon. We’re in a forest you know. 

I have to go to work. 

John 


The reaction of certain groups who found Stein- 
beck’s literary activities controversial caused Albee, 
now in New York, to write in concern for his friend’s 
physical safety. 


To Mr. and Mrs. George Albee 


Los Gatos 
January ii [1937I 
Sunday 

Dear George and Anne: 

Your letter concerning my danger came this morning. The 
whole thing is changed now. I am not doing any more arti- 
cles. And they do forget. So there is practically no danger 
until I commit another overt act. Right now I think my safety 
lies in the fact that I am not important enough to kill and I’m 
too able to get publicity to risk the usual beating. Our house 

133 



is covered by insurance against riots and commotions. 

I guess well have to pull in our horns financially. I don’t 
expect the little book Of Mice and Men to make any money. 
It’s such a simple little thing. 

It is raining hard here now and very dark. I have an elec- 
tric lantern in my little work room and the rain is pounding 
on the roof. Very pleasant. 

bye 

John 


And then word came that Of Mice and Men had been 
chosen by the Book-of-the-Month Club. 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Los Gatos 
January 27, 1937 

Dear Miss Otis: 

Of course this selection is gratifying but also it is frighten- 
ing. I shall never lesgm to conceive of money in larger quanti- 
ties than two dollars. More than that has no conceptual 
meaning to me. But a part of the money will be used for a 
long trip this spring. Both of us are such provincial rabbits 
and we want to move about a little before the rheumatism 
gets us. And so we plan quite an extended tripping. However, 
we’ve planned so many that didn’t come off that our fingers 
are growing together crossed. 

The new book has struck a bad snag. Heaven knows how 
long it will take to write. The subject is so huge that it scares 
me to death. And I’m not going to rush it. It must be worked 
out with great care. That’s one fine thing this selection will 
do. It will let me work without a starvation scare going on all 

134 



the time. This may or may not be a good thing. 

It has been colder here than I’ve ever known it to be. Whole 
system of weather seems to be changing. In addition there is 
an epidemic of pneumonia and influenza out here so we go 
to town rarely and never to the theater. It is remarkable how 
cataclysmic human change and natural change work to- 
gether. Wish I could find a corollary. The point of departure 
is somewhere and it isn’t as simple as weather. Maybe the old 
gods are waking up or maybe a new litter of gods is hatching 
out. 

About the Mice book — already, before publication, there 
has been a lot of nonsense written about it. I’m not sure 
that I like adulation. I could defend myself against attack. 
I wish I were as sure I could defend myself against flat- 
tery. 

This is a rambling letter. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


To Pascal Covici 


Los Gatos 
February 28 [1937] 

Dear Mr. Covici: 

You do such nice things. The [Diego] Rivera book came and 
I am very grateful for it. It is a valuable thing and a beautiful 
job. Thank you. 

You know, we’ve been married seven years or going on 
seven and one of the dreams of our marriage was that the 
moment we could, we would do some traveling. Well we’re 
going to do it. My wife has never been on a ship. We’re taking 
booking on a freighter sailing for New York about the first of 
April. We plan to go on to Europe from there. I’ll give you the 
ship’s name before we start. We haven’t closed the booking 
yet. The boat is very slow, 31 days to N. Y. 

Joe Jackson told me that you had sold 117,000 copies of 
Mice. That’s a hell of a lot of books. 


135 



Anyway I’ll hope to see you before very long. You couldn’t 
arrange to sail with us, could you, train here and freighter 
back. That would be fine. 

Anyway thank you again for everything. 

John Steinbeck 


A number of playwrights saw dramatic possibilities 
in Of Mice and Men, but Annie Laurie Williams, the 
play agent associated with the McIntosh and Otis 
office, showed the novel to Beatrice Kaufman, East- 
ern representative of Samuel Goldwyn Pictures and 
— ^more to the point — ^the wife of the well-known 
playwright and director, George S. Kaufman. He 
shared his wife’s enthusiasm and enlisting Sam H. 
Harris as producer, arranged for a fall production of 
the work, which, as he wrote Steinbeck “drops al- 
most naturally into play form and no one knows that 
better than you.” 

“It is only the second act that seems to me to need 
fresh invention,” he continued. “You have the two 
natural scenes for it— bunkhouse and the negro’s 
room, but I think the girl should come into both 
these scenes, and that the fight between Lennie and 
Curley, which will climax Act 2, must be over the 
girl. I think the girl should have a scene with Lennie 
before the scene in which he kills her. The girl, I 
think, should be drawn more fully: she is the moti- 
vating force of the whole thing and should loom 
larger.” 

He made a couple of other specific, small sugges- 
tions and asked Steinbeck to send any further ideas 
he might have. Then Kaufman added: 

“Preserve the marvelous tenderness of the book. 
And — ^if you could feel it in your heart to include a 
little more humor, it would be extremely valuable, 
both for its lightening effect and the heightening of 
the subsequent tragedy by comparison.” 

In considering actors, he wrote that he was unde- 
cided as to whether to have “names” or not. 


136 



“I have just had a tough experience with Margaret 
Sullavan — we have had to close her play because of 
an impending baby. Not that Victor McLaglen could 
have a baby but he could do something else just as 
bad. Once you have delivered your play into the 
hands of a star you are helpless when that star mis- 
behaves. On the other hand, without a decent name 
we will open to four people when we go out of town.” 


To Elizabeth Otis and 
Annie Laurie Williams 


Los Gatos 
March 19, 1937 

Dear Miss Otis and Annie Laurie Williams; 

I have several letters from you this morning. This is the 
last letter you will get from me so I’d better make it complete. 
I’ll go over all the questions. 

Your check for $1,902 arrived and thank you very much. 
Please do not divulge the middle name on the check [Ernst]. 
I only use it at the bank as a safety measure. 

I had George Kaufman’s letter and have replied. I hope to 
have a draft incorporating his suggestions by the time we 
reach New York. 

I hate literary parties and won’t go to any if I can possibly 
get out of it. 

Sailing on the Sagebrush, March 23, due in N.Y. about the 
15th of April. Please do not tell anyone the name of the ship 
or its arrival. Covici knows and a few people out here. This 
ballyhoo is driving me nuts. 

Regarding the College Humor matter— If a story of mine 
is as well done as I am able to do it, I wouldn’t give a hoot 
if it were printed in Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang. Make the 
price the limit they will pay and if it doesn’t seem enough 
to you—- don’t let them. I really don’t like the idea that my 
work can only be printed in certain magazines. I’ve 
broken every literary rule when I wanted to. I’m not con- 
forming to some literary model now. 


137 



I’m down to Woollcott. [Alexander Woollcott whose “Town 
Crier” was a popular radio program.] I think you know my 
hatred of personal matters. On the other hand, I should like 
to have him talk about all work. I simply cannot write books 
if a consciousness of self is thrust on me. Must have some 
anonymity. I got Mr. Covici to start killing the pictures. I was 
recognized in S. F. the other day and it made me sick to my 
stomach. Unless I can stand in a crowd without any self- 
consciousness and watch things from an uneditorialized 
point of view, I’m going to have a hell of a hard time. I’m sure 
Mr. Woollcott will understand this. 

Factual material is this. Born Salinas, California, 1902. 
Died— ? 

If I said Pasadena, I lied, but I lie easily. Educated Salinas 
and Stanford and not too pleased with the job of either. 
Reared in Salinas and Monterey and in and on ranches in 
vicinity. Live near Los Gatos and no mention of where near 
Los Gatos. 

If Mr. Woollcott will soft-pedal the personal matter I’ll love 
him to pieces as Mr. Geezil says. If he insists give him the 
structure I’ve told you of Mice. The experiment of making a 
play that can be read or a novel that can be played. Trying 
to make a new form that will take some of the techniques of 
both. Maybe he can build a story on that and will be able to 
leave me to my “pack of lumbering dogs.” Did you see that 
press release? Toby had become a pack. Toby by the way is 
going to stay with a friend until we get back. Maybe you 
would do well to show Mr. Woollcott this page. I’m sure that 
of his own experience he will know that the pressures ex- 
erted by publicity are unendurable. 

In case of terrible need, you can radio me on the Sage- 
brush. By the way, if there’s any mess please let me know. A 
letter would reach me c/o the ship in Philadelphia. If there 
is a fuss we could get oflf there and go in on a train. I want 
to get in and settled quietly. 

See you all soon. 

John S. 


138 



After a visit of several months in the Soviet Union 
and Scandinavia, John and Carol Steinbeck re- 
turned to New York, where preparations for the 
stage production of Of Mice and Men were going 
forward. Kaufman invited Steinbeck to his Bucks 
County home to make final changes in the script 
before rehearsals began. 

Meanwhile, the “gift” edition of The Red Pony — a 
pet project of Pascal Covici’s — had been published. 


To Lawrence Clark Powell 


Someplace in 
Pennsylvania 
[Bucks County] 
August 23 [1937] 

Dear Larry: 

Just got in from Sweden a few days ago, hence the delay in 
answering your letter. Doing some play work down here and 
in a couple of weeks well start home. I’m thoroughly tired of 
moving around. It’s out of my system for some time, I hope. 
I was expecting a howl about the price of The Red Pony. I 
wouldn’t pay ten dollars for a Gutenberg Bible. In this case, 
I look at it this way. Covici loves beautiful books. These are 
old stories reprinted and they don’t amount to much anyway 
so if he wants to make a pretty book, why not? The funny 
thing is that they’re over-subscribed, about five hundred. I 
didn’t know there were that many damn fools in the world 
— with 10 bucks, I mean. I don’t let Covici dictate one word 
about how I write and I try never to make a suggestion about 
publishing to him. 

Your bibliography is very fl,attering. I can’t think my work 
deserves it nor can I believe there would be enough general 
interest to justify any investment in it. However, I don’t think 
there would be any objection on Covici’s part. I couldn’t very 
well do a preface. It would be too much like singing at my 
own funeral. I mean it would be such an egotistical thing 


139 



to do and I’m not feeling egotistical. 

As for the foreign reprints— maybe McIntosh and Otis 
could tell you. I don’t know. And campus publications— I 
can’t remember either. This material is bound to be lousy. 
There was very little anyway. I wasn’t well liked in college 
and with reason as I remember it. 

I hope I’ll see you before too long. Let me hear from you. 

John S. 


While in Sweden, the Steinbecks had become 
friends of the painter Bo Beskow, four years Stein- 
beck’s junior. They had met in the corridor of the 
Covici-Friede offices in New York the previous win- 
ter: Beskow was there in connection with his mother 
Elsa Beskow’s widely known children’s books. 

“Bumped into each other in the corridor,” Beskow 
recalls in a recent letter. “The publisher said, ‘Mr. 
Steinbeck has written a book, just out, would you 
like a copy?’ John mumbled something and the pub- 
lisher translated: ‘Mr. and Mrs. Steinbeck are going 
to Russia and will pass Stockholm.’ I gave him my 
address and went home and read the book in bed to 
put me to sleep. But it kept me awake to the last word 
and long after that. I was excited, having Of Mice 
and Men thrown at me without ever having heard 
of John Steinbeck. They came to Stockholm that 
summer and we struck a friendshii) — ^what warmth 
and light and fun, those weeks.” 

Beskow, at this time, had just won first prize in a 
nationwide mural competition. Later he was to 
achieve an international reputation for, among 
other works, his two murals and his portrait of Dag 
Hammarskjdld in the United Nations Building, New 
York, and his stained glass windows in Swedish 
cathedrals. In the summer of 1937 he did the first of 
three portraits of Steinbeck. 


140 



To Mr. and Mrs. Bo Beskow 


Los Gatos 

C1937I 

Dear Muggins and Bo: 

We have missed you very much. We wish you had come 
with us and were here. Before I left New York I sent three 
books. Will you let me know when you receive them? I mean 
with customs and all, Fd like to know they got there. We 
drove across the country. Our darling dog is well and happy 
and now we are settled. Muggins’ letter came today and 
made us happy and sad too. Do write to us. People here mar- 
vel at Bo’s portrait. Pat Covici wanted you to try to have it 
photographed in color at his expense. He said he would write 
you about it. 

The little Wilhelmson boat was a joy. We played poker 
with the master and the steward all the way to New York. It 
is hot in N. Y. We went to Pennsylvania and finished up the 
play — back to N. Y. for casting and then we bought a Chevro- 
let and drove home. That’s our history. Now I must get to 
work. 

Donald Oenslager, who designed the sets and light- 
ing for Of Mice and Men, remembered that 

“Prior to rehearsals, there was a meeting of the di- 
rector, George S. Kaufman, John Steinbeck, myself 
and the producer, Sam H. Harris in Harris’ cubicle 
office on the second floor of the Music Box Theatre. 
There were both general and detailed discussions on 
the production. At the conclusion of the meeting, 
John Steinbeck rose and said that he felt all was in 
good hands and that his presence was no longer 
necessary; whereupon he departed for California.” 

This departure, and the fact that he never returned 
were to have repercussions later. Steinbeck contin- 
ues to Bo Beskow: 

We have a blood hound supposedly on its way here from 
Chicago by express and it hasn’t come and we can’t go out 



because it might come in our absence and so we wait here 
for it. 

Autumn came yesterday with little winds and today it is 
really here and the oaks are beginning to lose their leaves. 
We are going to do some building, among other things a little 
swimming pool so you must come soon to jump into it. 

I have a lot of work to do, must read proof on the last acting 
version of Mice which then goes to the printer. And I have 
written no letters since we got home. This is the first. The 
war cloud is very heavy now. The Japanese affair is close to 
us but I don’t think it would be easy to get this people to fight. 
We aren’t like Europe. The Government can’t start a war and 
just have the people fall in line. 

bye and write soon and keep us posted. 

I’m sure that our meeting was not one of those things that 
happens and ends. We are positive of that now. So keep in 
touch until the time that you will be here. 

love to both of you 
jon 


The play. Of Mice and Men, with Wallace Ford as 
George, Broderick Crawford as Lennie, and Claire 
Luce in the nameless but pivotal role of Curley’s 
Wife, opened at the Music Box Theatre in New York 
on November 23, i937. It was an immediate success 
and ran for 207 performances. Steinbeck later re- 
called that Elizabeth Otis had given a party after the 
opening for members of the agency staff and other 
friends, and that they made a telephone call to Los 
Gatos to report the evening’s triumph. Each, he 
remembered, said, “Well, we’re all here and we’ve 
all seen the show.” 



To Elizabeth Otis, 
Annie Laurie Williams 
and Mavis McIntosh 


Los Gatos 

[November 24 , 1937] 
Thursday night 

Dear Elizabeth and Annie Laurie and Mavis: 

You don’t knovvr how good it was to hear your voices and 
how sweet it was of you to take the trouble to phone. It was 
a pretty exciting night even for us, what with Pat sending 
wires after every act. I didn’t feel it at all until about six that 
evening and then my stomach began turning loops of stage- 
fright. I was very glad when it was over and the audience 
hadn’t stoned the cast and mailed poisoned candy to me. A 
wire from Kaufman says it seems pretty good but he can’t tell 
yet how good. I mean a good first night reaction doesn’t mean 
that it won’t close pretty soon, does it? That’s a kind of a 
picked audience and the tough ones are the trippers from 
Ogden who keep Broadway running. I report with pleasure 
that on the basis of that first night I am going to get a new 
typewriter. We’ve never had one that wasn’t pretty decrepit. 
Anyway, I’m glad it had a good opening and I’ll be very anx- 
ious to hear the little sidelights that you people can tell. We 
were all so hysterical over the phone that there wasn’t time 
for much but squeaks of Joy. Do write about it, please. 

Joe Jackson wired from the Chronicle for consensus of 
opinion of critics and it came through and they will run it 
Sunday. So darned nice of him to do it and the critics didn’t 
take pot shots at it as I thoroughly expected' them to. I think 
Carol would really have liked to be there but I couldn’t get 
her to go. 

I have a lot of letters to write so I’ll get down to Elizabeth’s 
letter which was waiting for me when I got back tonight. I’m 
glad about the stories. I hope that Esquire knows that this 
story [“The Snake”] was printed in the little Monterey maga- 
zine traded for the use of a horse. You know that. I don’t want 
any kickback. Please make it clear to them. The Murder 


143 



reprint is swell. Such a lot of money. Now I know I will get 
a new typewriter. I’ll send pictures of the new dog just as 
soon as I have some of them developed. It is very quiet here 
after a very very hectic day. I’m bringing you a new client. 
Louis Paul. He’s a swell egg and you will like him. And he’s 
well enough known so that it may not be hard to sell his 
stories. I like him immensely. Again thank you millions for 
everything you have all done. I appreciate it and lay out my 
heart for you to walk on. 

John 


To George S. Kaufman 


Los Gatos 
[November 1937] 

Dear George; 

As the reviews come in it becomes more and more appar- 
ent that you have done a great job. I knew you would of 
course but there is a curious gap between the thing in your 
hand and the thing set down and you’ve jumped that gap. It’s 
a strange kind of humbling luck we have. Carol and I have 
talked of it a number of times. That we — obscure people out 
of a place no one ever heard of — should have our first play 
directed and produced by the greatest director of our time — 
will not bear too close inspection for fear we may catch the 
gods of fortune at work and catching them, anger them so 
they hate us. Already I have made propitiation — thrown my 
dear ring in the sea and I hope no big fish brings it back to 
me. 

To say thank you is ridiculous for you can’t thank a man 
for good work any more than you can thank him for being 
himself. But one can be very glad he is himself and that is 
what we are — ^very glad you are George Kaufman. 

It doesn’t matter a damn whether this show runs a long 
time. It came to life for one night anyway, and really to life, 
and that’s more than anyone has any right to hope. 

Sometimes in working, the people in my head become 

144 



much realler than I am. I have had letters. It seems that for 
two hours you made your play far more real than its audi- 
ence and only the play existed. I wish I could transport into 
some mathematical equation, my feeling, so that it might be 
a communication unmistakable and unchanging. 

And that’s all. 

John 


To the McIntosh and Otis staff 


Los Gatos 
[November 1937] 

Dear All: 

It is getting to be almost a daily habit to write to you in 
answer to nice letters. A friend of mine, hearing that the play 
has run a week without closing, has christened it Abie’s Irish 
Mice. I like that very much. 

If you get any request for stories for Hollywood remember 
there is still that old Cup which is the only thing I have ever 
done that would make a good picture. Also, I like the idea of 
breaking up the Pastures and selling it, but this idea is puni- 
tive. It would please me to have them buy little by little what 
they refused to take as a whole, and when they could have 
had it very cheaply. 

You may notice that I have a new typewriter. We have 
never had a good one in our lives. Always something of about 
nineteen twelve. But after we saw this play was going to run 
a week at least, we went out and got a new one, well — a nearly 
new one. And look what it has— ! n ' . A tilda, an exclamation 
and a grave accent. Or rather an acute. I don’t know where 
to use a grave and nobody knows where to use a circumflex 
so we didn’t get them. But isn’t it beautiful? I hadn’t realized 
that science had done so much while I worked on the 1912 
model. This is so wonderful that I just write the first letter 
and the machine spells the rest of the word out. It is going to 
be a great boon to my spelling. You will notice too that this 


145 



letter is longer than usual. That is because I can push down 
these keys with one hand instead of standing up and using 
both hands. 

I’m suspicious of all these nice criticisms. They are out of 
character. Even Nathan [George Jean Nathan, drama critic]. 
I was looking for something better from him. I thought he 
would maintain his aloofness anyway. But even he won’t 
disagree. 

That’s all I think. And thank you for writing so often. 

Love to you all, 
John 


Jack Kirkland, aaapter of Erskine Caldwell’s phe- 
nomenally successful Tobacco Road, had taken an 
option on Tortilla Flat. When he finished his dra- 
matization, he sent it to Los Gatos for Steinbeck’s 
reaction. 


To Jack Kirkland 


Los Gatos 
November 31, 1937 
Tuesday 

Dear Jack: 

Your manuscript came this morning and we, Carol and I, 
got right to it and spent the day in howls of laughter. It is a 
gorgeously funny thing and I am very much pleased with it. 
It should keep an audience in hysterics and I imagine it will 
get you some attention from the police but you have done it 
in purity of heart and that is what I was anxious about. It 
doesn’t in the least matter what a man does, it is his manner 
in doing it. In the criticism I am about to make, some is 

146 



technical and some, the last scene criticism, is put in because 
such a thing couldn’t happen, it is out of character and com- 
pletely socially impossible. 

The early technical criticisms are two. First the Spanish. 
A number of times you have used “A donde vas?” as a greet- 
ing and such it could be outside but never in the house for it 
means “where are you going?” You might say it to a man 
going by the house. Next, you have referred to Sweets as 
Senora when she is unmarried. Now she might be called 
Senora in ridicule but from the attitude of the friends I think 
they and Mrs. Morales would call her Senorita and do it with 
emphasis. 

Next, check ail the Mexican phrases with a Mexican. I 
can’t go over all of it unless I can talk with you and the 
nuance of value in every Spanish phrase is tremendous. In 
Act one you have Sweets call the others “You paisanos.” It 
wouldn’t be done. Paisano is not a term of opprobrium but a 
declaration of relationship. You say, “You are my paisano.” 
Or, to show you have lived here a great while, “I am 
paisano.” In the first case it means you are my countryman 
and in the second I am a native to this place. 

Next. You have the term “get into bed with” used openly 
and before two women. I don’t think that would happen. I 
think some circumlocution would be used probably with ges- 
tures to clarify it. 

Next — in the first act you have made a half gallon of wine 
go a hell of a long way. Two gallons would hardly suffice. I 
could drink the half myself. 

Now let me get to the last act and the quarrel between 
Pilon and the priest which I object to. This could not happen. 
It is unthinkable that Pilon should be unmannerly toward a 
priest no matter how much he might hate him and he doesn’t 
hate him, and it is even more unthinkable for a priest to be 
curt with a parishioner. The discipline is too great. Third, 
unless a man has been excommunicated it is not in the 
power of a priest to refuse him last unction or any sacrament. 

I am sending you another version of the scene. Please un- 
derstand that I am not muscling in and that this is only a 
suggestion. Use it if you wish or don’t use it. 

Don’t think me obstreperous in this matter. I don’t want to 
be. I think your play is gorgeous. If you can get the proper 
actors you will roll them in the aisles. 

I wish to goodness you could come west and could talk 


147 



about it. I could lead you to hear the real speech spoken so 
you could get the tone of it in your head. 

Well have a telephone in a few days and then we won’t be 
quite so much out of touch as we have been. 

Good bye. 

John 


To Elizabeth Otis and 
Annie Laurie Williams 


[Los Gatos] 
December [1937} 

Dear Elizabeth and Annie Laurie; 

The dogs of Hollywood are loose. A week ago some one 
from a Hollywood agency called up and I had to go to town 
to answer a long distance call and it was a Mr. Marcus of the 
Myron Selznick office who wanted to come up here to discuss 
my Hollywood affairs. I told him I had no Hollywood affairs 
and told him to get in touch with you as my sole agents. I 
thought that would stop things. But last night there was an- 
other long distance call and I had to go to town again to get 
it and it was Zeppo Marx with a very attractive offer. I didn’t 
ask what it was. I said no and he said it would please me and 
I said no again and he said he would write me because Holly- 
wood wasn’t the same as it used to be and my friends like G. 
Kaufman had changed their attitude and why shouldn’t I? 
This was funny for George held forth to me for an hour on 
how he hated Hollywood. Anyway he said he would write 
and I said you were sole agents and he said he would write 
anyway. When his letter comes I will send it to you and you 
can kill that once for all. I don’t intend to go to Hollywood at 
any price whatever and this is not a hold out. 

Our telephone will be in by this week end and then at least 
I won’t have to make a five mile run into town to say no. 

I have never before come in contact with anyone to whom 
the word no had no meaning whatever but these seem to be 
people like that. Let them buy stories that were not written 

148 



for them, except IDB [In Dubious Battle] but I won’t work for 
them. 

This is a mad letter. It was raining when I had to go to town 
last night and Marx had put in the call and then had gone to 
dinner so I had to wait for him and Pm still mad. 

John 


To Annie Laurie Williams 


TELEGRAM 


SAN JOSE [LOS GATOS] 
DECEMBER 8, I937 

PLEASE QUERY KIRKLAND REGARDING POSSIBILITY OF COMING WEST 
TO DISCUSS TORTILLA STOP WILL HELP HIM TWO WEEKS IN REWRIT- 
ING BETWEEN US PLAY SEEMS LOUSIER EVERY READING DIALOGUE IS 
OFF TONE VULGARITY CREEPS IN PLAY CHANGES TEMPO AND IN 
MANY CASES IS DULL BE DISCREETLY PRESSING AND PLEASE WIRE HIS 
ANSWER 

JOHN 


To Annie Laurie Williams 


Los Gatos 
[December 9, 1937] 

Dear Annie Laurie: 

I suppose I shouldn’t have sent that wire. What happened 
was that we read the thing out loud and it sounded so bad 
that I got to feeling low and I thought that if only Jack Kirk- 
land would come out we might fix the thing up. You see it 
doesn’t maintain its tone and there is a terrible matter of talk 


149 



that doesn’t lead to anything. It is just a series of black-outs 
now. I would work with him if he would come out. 

There are so many little undertones that he has got wrong. 
I don’t want to maintain my book but I would like to maintain 
the people as I know them. Let me give you an example. Jack 
makes them want wine and need wine and suffer for wine 
v^rhereas they want the thing wine does. They are not drunk- 
ards at all. They like the love and fights that come with wine, 
rather than the wine itself. Many of his scenes are swell. I 
hope you didn’t hurt his feelings and I know you didn’t. The 
whole last scene seems like coming back to someplace where 
you never were. You are told that Danny is a hell of a guy but 
on the stage he never proves it and the audience is going to 
wonder what all the shooting is about. I think Danny should 
be built up. I think the differences between the others should 
be shown. His casting of the play is excellent. I mean into 
scenes. It is only in the details, in the dialogue and in the 
tempo that it seems to me to need working on. Some of it is 
very very funny and some of it now on the third reading 
seems tiresome. 

But then let it go. I’ll ok the script all except the priest scene 
just as it stands if he wants me to. But he is going to find that 
a Mexican with an accent is not going to be able to say many 
of his speeches. 

These are little things but I have a feeling that unless they 
are taken care of, the play is not going to have any sound of 
authenticity. You can argue that it doesn’t matter because no 
one in the east ever heard of these people, anyway. Just 
remember some of the phony dialect in pictures and you will 
see that it does matter. No one believes that, in fact scorns it. 
I wish now I had not acted so precipitately about the wire. 
But I had hit bottom. I don’t feel quite so badly about it now 
but I do think it would be better with some more work. 

I think that is all and please don’t give Kirkland the idea 
that I am riding him. 

John 


150 



In addition to buying several stories that Esquire 
had previously rejected, Arnold Gingrich, its editor, 
sent Steinbeck a gift of a watch. 


To Arnold Gingrich 


Los Gatos 
January 5, 1938 

Dear Mr. G: 

In writing to thank you for the beautiful little watch, I am 
quite swathed in a kind of wonder and in a little fear. I am 
quite sure you could not have known that in me you had 
probably the most profound, double-barrelled, synchro- 
mesh, watch tragedy the world has ever known. I have not 
spoken of this before. It was too sharp. 

Watches from the beginning filled me not only with long- 
ing but with sorrow and nostalgia and a little despair. But so 
vital is hope that when I came near to graduating from 
grammar school, when Elgin and Waltham were explaining 
in full pages the remoteness of success to a watchless person, 

I must admit that a little hope flickered. And so I graduated 
— and I got a signet ring. 

All through my two years of first year Latin and my year 
and a half of second year Latin my time sense was so utterly 
undeveloped that I rarely got to school on time a.nd some- 
times left long before it was dismissed. It was only in the last 
six months that the little worm of spirit moved. With a surge 
I finished the last month of second year Latin in six weeks. 
I think I hoped to bribe some kinds of gods with this sacrifice. 
And so I graduated. I got a Waterman’s pen and pencil set. 

I think you can understand that my interest in higher edu- 
cation was nonexistent. My parents persuaded and cursed 
and appealed to my pride. I weakened and went to college 
almost frantically unenthusiastic. I had become so antisocial 
that I am the only person in the world who vvas ever bl^k- 
balled from a journalistic fraternity and at a time when they 
needed the initiation fee. I dragged through three years not 



bravely but dully. I thought pain could no longer strike. And 
then came the time — and I couldn’t take it. I didn’t graduate. 

The succeeding years have not been happy but I have been 
busy. And my sense of time, stunted from the beginning, 
grew so weak and thin that not only did I not know what time 
it was nor what day it was but once or twice have been three 
years out on a check stub. 

I am trying to reorganize myself. Am I too old? My bones 
are brittle. I have sometimes to get up in the night. I feel that 
my fecundity is not eternal. Oh, I can feel the years a little 
particularly just before a rain. And now — I get a watch. I 
wonder if such things always come too late. I wonder if I can 
go back. I wonder for that matter if I can tell time! 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


Carol Steinbeck went to New York for the opening 
of the Jack Kirkland adaptation of Tortilla Flat on 
January 12, 1938. 


To Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Henry Jackson 

IN SAN FRANCISCO 


[Pacific Grove] 
[January 1938] 

Dear Joe and Charlotte: 

It would seem that things are piling up which will keep me 
from going up this week end. 

It is pouring rain today. By now you probably know what 
happened to Tortilla Flat. It was, says Carol, the worst thing 
she ever saw. The lines were bad but the directing and cast- 
ing were even worse. The thing closed after four perfor- 
152 



mances, thank God. We are really pretty happy about the 
whole thing because we think this may be so discouraging to 
Paramount that they will not try to make a picture at all now. 

I get sadder and sadder. The requests and demands for 
money pour in. It is perfectly awful. WPA worker in pencil 
from Illinois — “you have got luck and I got no luck. My boy 
needs a hundderd dollar operation. Please send a hundderd 
dollars. I will pay it back.” That sort of thing. Getting worse 
every day. Maybe Cuernavaca isn’t so far off at that if this 
doesn’t die down. “Liberal negro school going to close if 
money isn’t forthcoming. Can you stand by and see this 
school close after fifteen years?” Someone told a Salinas la- 
dies’ club that I had made three hundred thousand dollars 
this year. It is driving me crazy. “If you will just send me a 
railroad ticket to Boise I can come to California and get rid 
of my rheumatism.” They’re nightmarish. Some may be pho- 
nys but so damned many of them aren’t. Nearly every one is a 
desperate catching at a million-to-one chance. The damned 
things haunt me. There’s no way of getting over the truth and 
that we have very little money. It’s nibbling me to death. 

I think Carol is having a marvelous time. She is so rushed 
that she can hardly breathe but in spite of that she gets off 
a letter nearly every day. I think she is taking New York and 
picking its bones. She is seeing everything and doing every- 
thing. We will be poor little provincials to her from now on. 
I’m really glad she went alone because I am prone to say oh 
to hell with it and not go the places I’ve wanted to go (my 
grammar will give you a mild idea of my mental condition). 

bye and 

thanks for asking me. 

john 


It was probably unprecedented in the history 
of the theatre that an actress, midway in the 
run of a successful play, should begin to have 
misgivings about her interpretation of her 
role. But Annie Laurie Williams reported that 
this was what was happening to Claire Luce 


153 



in Of Mice and Men and asked Steinbeck to 
write the actress about the character of Curley’s 
Wife. 


To Claire Luce 


Los Gatos 
[193S] 

Dear Miss Luce: 

Annie Laurie says you are worried about your playing of 
the part of Curley’s wife although from the reviews it ap- 
pears that you are playing it marvelously. I am deeply grate- 
ful to you and to the others in the cast for your feeling about 
the play. You have surely made it much more than it was by 
such a feeling. 

About the girl — I don’t know of course what you think 
about her, but perhaps if I should tell you a little about her 
as I know her, it might clear your feeling about her. 

She grew up in an atmosphere of fighting and suspicion. 
Quite early she learned that she must never trust any one but 
she was never able to carry out what she learned. A natural 
trustfulness broke through constantly and every time it did, 
she got hurt. Her moral training was most rigid. She was told 
over and over that she must remain a virgin because that 
was the only way she could get a husband. This was harped 
on so often that it became a fixation. It would have been 
impossible to seduce her. She had only that one thing to sell 
and she knew it. 

Now, she was trained by threat not only at home but by 
other kids. And any show of fear or weakness brought an 
instant persecution. She learned she had to be hard to cover 
her fright. And automatically she became hardest when she 
was most frightened. She is a nice, kind girl and not a floozy. 
No man has ever considered her as anything except a girl to 
try to make. She has never talked to a man except in the 
sexual fencing conversation. She is not highly sexed particu- 
larly but knows instinctively that if she is to be noticed at all, 

154 



it will be because some one finds her sexually desirable. 

As to her actual sexual life — she has had none except with 
Curley and there has probably been no consummation there 
since Curley would not consider her gratification and would 
probably be suspicious if she had any. Consequently she is a 
little starved. She knows utterly nothing about sex except the 
mass of misinformation girls tell one another. If anyone — a 
man or a woman — ever gave her a break — treated her like a 
person — she would be a slave to that person. Her craving for 
contact is immense but she, with her background, is incapa- 
ble of conceiving any contact without some sexual context. 
With all this — if you knew her, if you could ever break down 
the thousand little defenses she has built up, you would find 
a nice person, an honest person, and you would end up by 
loving her. But such a thing can never happen. 

I hope you won’t think I’m preaching. I’ve known this girl 
and I’m just trying to tell you what she is like. She is afraid 
of everyone in the world You’ve known girls like that, 
haven’t you? You can see them in Central Park on a hot night. 
They travel in groups for protection. They pretend to be wise 
and hard and voluptuous. 

I have a feeling that you know all this and that you are 
doing all this. Please forgive me if I seem to intrude on your 
job. I don’t intend to and I am only writing this because 
Annie Laurie said you wondered about the girl. It’s a devil of 
a hard part. I am very happy that you have it. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


Annie Laurie Williams reported that Of Mice and 
Men continued to play to full houses on Broadway; 
that the management planned a road tour for the 
fall; that she had sold English rights, then Scandina- 
vian; and that Warner Brothers was showing inter- 
est for a film because one of its stars, James Cagney, 
was eager to play George. But success had another 
face. As Steinbeck had already written to Elizabeth 
Otis: 


155 



“My mail has, with the exception of your letters, 
become a thing of horror. Swarms of people — 
money, speeches, orders and this autograph busi- 
ness. I didn’t know it was such a mania. Well, I’m 
through. I’m signing no books for anyone except 
friends. It’s getting worse all the time.” 

But these were not the bitterest fruits of success. A 
young woman, whom Steinbeck had known as a 
child, claimed to be pregnant by him. The charge 
proved deeply upsetting. At the same time, a breach 
with his old friend, George Albee, took place. “You 
may be sure,” writes his brother Richard Albee, who 
survives, “that the basic cause was artistic jealousy, 
and of course it was on the part of George, not John.” 


To George Albee 


Los Gatos 

Dear George: 

The reason for your suspicion is well founded. This has 
been a difficult and unpleasant time. There has been nothing 
good about it. In this time my friends have rallied around, all 
except you. Every time there has been a possibility of putting 
a bad construction on anything I have done, you have put 
such a construction. 

Some kind friend has told me about it every time you have 
stabbed me in the back and that whether I wanted to know 
it or not. I didn’t want to know it really. If such things had 
been reported as coming from more than one person it would 
be easy to discount the whole thing but there has been only 
one source. Now I know that such things grow out of an 
unhappiness in you and for a long time I was able to reason 
so and to keep on terms of some kind of amicability. But 
gradually I found I didn’t trust you at all, and when I knew 
that then I couldn’t be around you any more. It became obvi- 
ous that anything I said or did in your presence or wrote to 
you would be warped viciously and repeated and then the 
156 



repetition was repeated to me and the thing was just too 
damned painful. I tried to sidestep, just to fade out of your 
picture. But that doesn’t work either. 

I’d like to be friends with you, George, but I can’t if I have 
to wear a mail shirt the whole time. I wish to God your un- 
happiness could find some other outlet. But I can’t consider 
you a friend when out of every contact there comes some 
intentionally wounding thing. This has been the most diffi- 
cult time in my life. 

I’ve needed help and trust and the benefit of the doubt, 
because I’ve tried to beat the system which destroys every 
writer, and from you have come only wounds and kicks in 
the face. And that is the reason and I think you always knew 
it was the reason. 

john 

And now if you want to quarrel, it will at least be an honest 
quarrel and not boudoir pin pricking. 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Los Gatos 
February 1938 

Dear Elizabeth: 

Came yesterday morning the check for royalties. Thank 
you. It has been raining for one solid week and we are 
thoroughly sick of it. Of course that will make a rich year but 
it is the longest and wettest rain I remember and it has sealed 
us in the house. Carol has a sore throat but seems finally to 
be licking it. The dogs are nuts for exercise. 

Carol had such a good time. It comes out little by little. She 
couldn’t remember much when she first got home but every 
day she remembers something. I don’t think it is very real to 
her now. Just something she dreamed. You were all very 
wonderful to her. I think it has done something permanent 
to her ego which never was properly developed. 

Unpleasant thing. I finally broke open the thing with 


157 



George. At least now if he wants to quarrel it won’t be lady 
quarreling. I feel better about that, but I don’t like such 
things at all. 

I’m so darned glad to have Carol back. She can answer the 
phone and I am permanently out of town. The crowd of 
speaking engagements continues. I don’t know why this in- 
sistence on speaking. I am not going to do it, but Carol can 
say no in much nicer ways than I can. 

I imagine the thing will die now [the paternity 

charge]. It would have been so easy for them if I had kept it 
from Carol or if I had something to lose so that I would pay 
rather than fight. Maybe the attorney figured something like 
that. But even if there had been relations between this girl 
and me, Carol would have known about it and that would 
have fallen down in any case. I think Carol’s method in a 
pinch is good. I have several marks on my body, one at least 
of them disfiguring, and apparent enough so that a wife or 
a mistress would be sure to have noticed them. Failure to 
know them would of course prove something. The worst one, 
a huge empyema scar, though, could be seen in a bathing 

suit. But I don’t think [the girl] would remember that. 

But I did teach all the kids to swim and she might, but there 
are others. I hope it never gets that far. 

I must go over into the interior valleys. There are about five 
thousand families starving to death over there, not just hun- 
gry but actually starving. The government is trying to feed 
them and get medical attention to them with the fascist 
group of utilities and banks and huge growers sabotaging the 
thing all along the line and yelling for a balanced budget. In 
one tent there are twenty people quarantined for smallpox 
and two of the women are to have babies in that tent this 
week. I’ve tied into the thing from the first and I must get 
down there and see it and see if I can’t do something to help 
knock these murderers on the heads. Do you know what 
they’re afraid of? They think that if these people are allowed 
to live in camps with proper sanitary facilities, they will 
organize and that is the bugbear of the large landowner and 
the corporation farmer. The states and counties will give 
them nothing because they are outsiders. But the crops of 
any part of this state could not be harvested without these 
outsiders. I’m pretty mad about it. No word of this outside 
because when I have finished my job the jolly old associated 
farmers will be after my scalp again. 

158 



I guess that is all. Funny how mean and little books become 
in the face of such tragedies. 


John 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Los Gatos 
February 14, 1938 
Monday 

Dear Elizabeth: 

Your letter this morning with check and lots of informa- 
tion. Thank you very much. I’m glad the paternity suit mat- 
ter is nearly over. And I’m desperately sorry for the break 
with George but I think it is healthier in the open. 

I don’t know whether I’ll go south or not but I must go to 
Visalia. Four thousand families, drowned out of their tents 
are really starving to death. The resettlement administration 
of the government asked me to write some news stories. The 
newspapers won’t touch the stuff but they will under my 
byline. The locals are fighting the government bringing in 
food and medicine. I’m going to try to break the story hard 
enough so that food and drugs can get moving. Shame and a 
hatred of publicity will do the job to the miserable local 
bankers. I’ll let you know more about this when I get back 
from the area. Talk about Spanish children. The death of 
children by starvation in our valleys is simply staggering. 
I’ve got to do it. If I can sell the articles I’ll use the proceeds 
for serum and such. Codliver oil would give the live kids a 
better chance. Of course no individual effort will help. Ten 
thousand people are affected in one area. Anyway, I’ll do 
what I can. 

The whole state is flooded you know. This is the 19th day 
of rain. 

I guess this is all. I’ll let you know what happens. 

Bye, 

John 


159 



To Elizabeth Bailey 


{Los Gatos] 
[Spring 1938] 

Dear Godmother: 

I am so sorry you are ill. This continued rain makes for 
illness. I have a cold but I can’t take it very seriously. I’ve just 
come from the area where people are not only ill but hungry 
too. Get well quickly. 

Always I hope that sometime I’m not going to be too busy 
— that sometime I will be able to write a long letter without 
the feeling that I am playing hookey from work. 

Right now with the grass coming up thickly and the mus- 
tard beginning to bloom, I am filled with a thousand little 
memory nostalgias. I’d like to think about them — about how 
the black birds build nests on the mustard stalks and how 
Glen Grave’s father was angry with us for tramping down his 
grain to get to the nests. And how six of us on a sunny morn- 
ing solemnly burned our names on a fence picket with a 
burning glass — and said — “In fifty years we’ll come back and 
look at it.” But you know I did go back (it wasn’t fifty years 
though) and the picket was gone. 

Such nonsense. I hope you are better now. It will be a good 
spring, I think. 

love 

John 


160 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Los Gatos 
March 7, 1938 

Dear Elizabeth: 

Dear Elizabeth: 

I shouldn’t have repeated that for the sake of the letter but 
it was true enough in intention and quite unconscious. I 
guess unconscious is very correct as an evaluation of my 
condition. Just got back from another week in the field. The 
floods have aggravated the starvation and sickness. I went 
down for Life this time. Fortune wanted me to do an article 
for them but I won’t. I don’t like the audience. Then Life sent 
me down with a photographer from its staff and we took a lot 
of pictures of the people. They guarantee not to use it if they 
change it and will send me the proofs. They paid my ex- 
penses and will put up money for the help of some of these 
people. 

I’m sorry but I simply can’t make money on these people. 
That applies to your query about an article for a national 
magazine. The suffering is too great for me to cash in on it. 
I hope this doesn’t sound either quixotic or martyrish to you. 
A short trip into the fields where the water is a foot deep in 
the tents and the children are up on the beds and there is no 
food and no fire, and the county has taken off all the nurses 
because “the problem is so great that we can’t do anything 
about it.” So they do nothing. And we found a boy in jail for 
a felony because he stole two old radiators because his 
mother was starving to death and in stealing them he broke 
a little padlock on a shed. We’ll either spring him or the 
district attorney will do the rest of his life explaining. 

But you see what I mean. It is the most heartbreaking thing 
in the world. If Life does use the stuff there will be lots of 
pictures and swell ones. It will give you an idea of the kind 
of people they are and the kind of faces. I break myself every 
time I go out because the argument that one person’s effort 
can’t really do anything doesn’t seem to apply when you 
come on a bunch of starving children and you have a little 

161 



money. I can’t rationalize it for myself anyway. So don’t get 
me a job for a slick. I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy 
bastards who are responsible for this but I can best do it 
through newspapers. 

I’m going to see the Secretary of Agriculture in a little 
while and try to find out for my own satisfaction anyway just 
how much of the government’s attitude is political and how 
much humanitarian. Then I’ll know what course to take. 

I’m in a mess trying to catch up with things that have piled 
up in the week I was gone. And of course I was in the mud 
for three days and nights and I have a nice cold to beat, but 
I haven’t time right now for a cold so I won’t get a very bad 
one. 

Sorry for the hectic quality of this letter. I am hectic and 
angry. 

Thank you for everything. 

Bye, 

John 


Life did not actually publish anything about the mi- 
grants’ camps till more than a year later, after The 
Grapes of Wrath had made its impact. In its issue of 
June 5, 1939, it ran a picture story with captions by 
Steinbeck, some of which were quotations from the 
novel. 

“I’ve been writing on the novel [about vigilantes] but 
I’ve had to destroy it several times,” he wrote Eliza- 
beth Otis shortly afterwards. “I don’t seem to know 
any more about writing a novel than I did ten years 
ago. You’d think I would learn. I suppose I could 
dash it off but I want this one to be a pretty good one. 
There’s another difficulty too. I’m trying to write his- 
tory while it is happening and I don’t want to be 
wrong.” 


162 



To Elizabeth Otis 


Los Gatos 
May 2, 1938 

Dear Elizabeth: 

Your letters both to Carol and to me came this morning and 
were very welcome. 

This is the first really free letter I have written for a long 
time. Yesterday or rather the day before yesterday I finished 
the first draft of this book. Now just the rewriting, but a lot 
of it because it is pretty badly done. It is short, just a few 
thousand over sixty thousand words. We’ll finish it and send 
it on and if you think it is no good we’ll burn it up and forget 
it. 

It is a mean, nasty book and if I could make it nastier I 
would. 

This morning I got the swellest letter of my life. From a 
man named Lemuel Gadberry, believe it or not, and he says 
he bought m and m [Of Mice and Men] and feels that he not 
only has been degraded in reading it but that he was cheated 
out of two dollars. I have just written him a long letter prais- 
ing his high soul and offering to return his two dollars with 
six percent interest on receipt of the book, that or a copy of 
When Knighthood Was In Flower. 

I have a very good working streak on and, when I finish this 
rewriting, I think perhaps I will do a few short stories. It is 
a long time since I have done any. I want to do a few essays 
too but not necessarily for publication. Feeling very literary 
these days with words crowding up to come tumbling out and 
the time between putting them down crowding with them 
like the forming eggs in a chicken or the spare fangs of a 
rattlesnake. But I like it even if the words are no good. It is 
still good fun to write them. 

Bye, and 
love to you all, 
John 


163 



Word came that Of Mice and Men, the play, had 
been given the Critics’ Circle award. Steinbeck re- 
sponded to the news with a telegram. 


To the Critics’ Circle 


TELEGRAM 

LOS GATOS 
APRIL 23, 1938 

CRITICS CIRCLE, CARE ANNIE LAURIE WILLIAMS 18 EAST 4I ST NYC 

GENTLEMEN: I HAVE ALWAYS CONSIDERED CRITICS AS AUTHORS 
NATURAL ENEMIES NOW I FEEL VERY MILLENIAL BUT A LITTLE TIMID 
TO BE LYING DOWN WITH THE LION THIS DISTURBANCE OF THE NATU- 
RAL BALANCE MIGHT CAUSE A PLAGUE OF PLAYWRIGHTS I AM HIGHLY 
HONORED BY YOUR GOOD OPINION BUT MY EGOTISTICAL GRATIFICA- 
TION IS RUINED BY A SNEAKING SUSPICION THAT GEORGE KAUFMAN 
AND THE CAST DESERVE THEM MORE THAN I. I DO HOWEVER TAKE 
THE RESPONSIBIUTY OF THANKING YOU. 

JOHN STEINBECK 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Los Gatos 
May 1938 

Dear Elizabeth: 

There seem to be so many places for me to put my foot even 
when I try not to walk about very much. What was the matter 
with that telegram I sent to the Critics’ Circle? Annie Laurie 
seemed ashamed of it. I thought it was all right. Carol 
thought it was all right. Maybe it got mixed up in the send- 
ing. It wasn’t abject but I didn’t think a group of men as 

164 



eminent as that would care for an abject one. I guess I just 
haven’t any social sense. So many things can happen. I have 
never submitted a novel to the Commonwealth Club here 
which gives a medal every year but Pat has. This year he 
forgot to or something and I understand that it is being 
spread that I think I am too good to compete in local things 
now. Just little things like that all the time. And this not 
going to New York to see this play which is being used every- 
where now (it has got to the fourth-rate movie columnists by 
now). I’d like to have seen the play but I wouldn’t go six 
thousand miles to see the opening of the second coming of 
Christ. Why is it so damned important? 


George Kaufman was offended. Coolness between 
the two men lasted for many years. 

I have the letter from George Jean Nathan [President of the 
Critics’ Circle] but will not answer until the plaque comes. 
Now what in the world will I do with a plaque? Melt it down 
perhaps and buy a pair of shoes for someone. 

I am sending you one of the sets of articles which were just 
printed from my articles on migrants. The proceeds go to 
help these people. 

Thanks for the checks. What a terrible lot of money. But 
there’s some use for it all the time. 

Bye, 

John 


To George Jean Nathan 


[Los Gatos] 
May 23 [1938] 

Dear Mr. Nathan: 

After some delay, the Critics’ Circle plaque arrived today. 
It is a very handsome thing. I thank the Circle again. I like 
to think there is a perfect line of conduct for every situation. 

165 



Fve never met any situation like this before. But I do remem- 
ber a speech of appreciation made by a rider at a dinner 
where he had received a pair of silver spurs for a champion- 
ship in ear notching and castrating calves. Cheered to his 
feet, the winner stood up blushing violently and made the 
following speech— “Aw shit, boys— Jesus Christ— why— god- 
dam it— oh! the hell with it,” and sat down to tremendous 
applause. You will find that this brief speech has in it every 
element of greatness in composition — beginning, middle, 
end, self-deprecation, a soaring quality in the middle and it 
ends not on a cynical or defeatist note but rather in a realiza- 
tion that nothing he could say could adequately convey his 
feeling. 

It is a beautiful plaque, and I am very proud to have it. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


The vigilante novel was abandoned about this time 
and destroyed without ever being sent to McIntosh 
and Otis. 

Still using the material he had gathered in the mi- 
grant camps, he now embarked on a new work, 
which, though it would remain for several months 
untitled, would become The Grapes of Wrath. 


i66 



To Elizabeth Otis 


Los Gatos 
June I, 1938 

Dear Elizabeth: 

Your letter and $475 check arrived. I think this is the 
windup [of the New York run of Of Mice and Men] but Carol 
thinks there is one more [check]. However it is, we’ve had 
much more than we deserve. And with care it will keep us 
for a long, long time. 

This is a very happy time. The new book is going well. Too 
fast. Fm having to hold it down. I don’t want it to go so fast 
for fear the tempo will be fast and this is a plodding, crawl- 
ing book. So I’m holding it down to approximately six pages 
a day. That doesn’t mean anything about finishing time since 
perhaps fifty percent will be cut out. Anyway, it is a nice 
thing to be working and believing in my work again. I hope 
I can keep the drive all fall. I like it. I only feel whole and 
well when it is this way. I don’t yet understand what hap- 
pened or why the bad book should have cleared the air so 
completely for this one. I am simply glad that it is so. 

Norwegian rights pay more than British. Maybe the in- 
come tax is less. 

John. 


To Annie Laurie Williams 


[Los Gatos] 
[July 1938] 

Dear Annie Laurie: 

Your good letter came this morning. I am very much 
pleased that the cast will remain intact or nearly [for the 
road tour of Of Mice and Men]. Fm afraid George K. is angry 

167 



with me for what he must think is a lack of interest. It isn’t, 
but I had this new book on my soul. When it is done I’ll be 
free to do a lot of things. 

I am quite sure no picture company would want this new 
book whole and it is not for sale any other way. It pulls no 
punches at all and may get us all into trouble but if so — so. 
That’s the way it is. Think I’ll print a foreword warning 
sensitive people to let it alone. I took three days off over the 
fourth. Getting back to work today. I’ve just scratched the 
surface so far. Carol thinks it is pretty good. 

Can you get M & M licensed in England? I doubt it for 
general showing. 

Please tell George K. he can make the changes he wishes 
in script. 


He was referring to the playing version for the cross- 
country tour. It was feared that sensibilities might 
prove too delicate for some of the play’s language, 
considered at the time dangerously strong for all but 
urban areas. 


I hope Pat doesn’t lose money on the short stories. Compet- 
ing with Hemingway isn’t my idea of good business. [Ernest 
Hemingway’s The Fifth Column and The First Forty-Nine 
Stories came out this year.] 

I’ll bet it is hot there now. Thank goodness I’m not there. 
But once this work is done I might do anything. It’s the culmi- 
nation of three years of work. 

Have fun. I’m sick of holding a pen. I’ve done 2,200 words 
today. So long. Write often. 

John 


It began to be apparent that Pascal Covici’s firm, 
Covici-Friede, was having financial difficulties. 


168 



To Elizabeth Otis 


Los Gatos 
July 22, 1938 

Dear Elizabeth; 

Your letter came this morning. I hope to God that Pat sur- 
vives. 

Eight more days and if nothing happens I should have half 
of my first draft of this novel done. Again that is not to be told. 
I’m glad about it though. With crossed fingers, I should have 
the whole first draft done in about two months and a half. But 
I’ve been lucky this far. 

In the event the worst happens to Pat I think it would be 
just as well to be ready. Please use your own judgment en- 
tirely in picking a new publisher. I have no choice. I have one 
or two dislikes but I don’t even know that they are fair. Get 
a Bradstreet report on whoever you pick. All things else be- 
ing equal, pick the one who makes the highest offer. We’ll 
have to pick up a year of royalties if Pat goes bankrupt. I 
think that hereafter, if I can get it, it might be a good idea to 
get all the advance possible. Why shouldn’t we be getting the 
interest as well as the publisher? I’m not being grabby but 
printers practically always get paid. Writers are an after- 
thought. 

Frankly this hasn’t worried me a bit. We have enough to 
eat on for a long time to come. It does stop negotiations we 
were making for a little ranch in the hills. Have to stop that 
until the thing clears or doesn’t. This place is getting built up 
and we have to move. Houses all around us now and so we 
will get back farther in the country. But next time we’ll be 
in the middle of fifty acres, not two. I can hear the neighbors’ 
stomachs rumbling. I hope to God Pat can do it and I will do 
anything to help him but hereafter I think the publisher will 
be the natural enemy. Pat is different. 

Don’t worry about it. We love you too and trust you and 
your judgment completely. 

Bye. I’m sorry this is being a bother to you. 

John 


169 



Covici-Friede went bankrupt and Pascal Covici, tak- 
ing John Steinbeck with him, joined The Viking 
Press as a senior editor. Both men would remain 
with this publishing house for the rest of their lives. 


Now the Steinbecks bought the ranch near Los 
Gatos that they had been negotiating for earlier. 
They lived in the existing ranch structure while 
they built a new house. 


To Mr, and Mrs. Louis Paul 


POSTCARD 


[Los Gatos] 
[September 1938] 

Dear Louis and Mary: 

We have a title at last. See how you like it. The Grapes of 
Wrath from Battle Hymn of the Republic. I think it is swell. 
Do you? Now both of us are working. Carol started typing 
from handwritten ms. She hopes to catch up before I am 
done. And at the rate she' goes she surely will. Then well 
have a clear copy to work on. I’m even working today — Sat. 
Hope my energy holds out. Another 6 weeks should do it. 


Love 

John 


170 



To Elizabeth Otis 


Los Gatos 
September lo, 1938 

Dear Elizabeth: 

Your letter came this morning — Monday. I don’t much un- 
derstand the meaning of this new contract arrangement but 
with you there, thank heaven I don’t have to. About the title 
— Pat wired that he liked it. And I too am glad because I like 
it better all the time. I think it is Carol’s best title so far. I like 
it because it is a march and this book is a kind of march— 
because it is in our own revolutionary tradition and because 
in reference to this book it has a large meaning. And I like 
it because people know the Battle Hymn who don’t know the 
Star Spangled Banner. 

You are quite right, we are nearly nuts. The foundations of 
the new house are going in. Carol is typing mss (2nd draft) 
and I’m working on first. I can’t tell when I will be done but 
Carol will have second done almost at the same time I have 
first. And — this is a secret — the 2nd draft is so clear and good 
that it, carefully and clearly corrected, will be what I submit. 
Carol’s time is too valuable to do purely stenographic work. 
It will be very easy to read and what more can they want? 
And still I can’t tell how much longer it will be nor how much 
time and I don’t intend to think about it but I am fairly sure 
that another sixty days will see it done. I hope so. I’ve been 
sitting down so long I’m getting office spread. And I’m des- 
perately tired but I want to finish. And meanwhile I feel as 
though shrapnel were bursting about my head. I only hope 
the book is some good. Can’t tell yet at all. And I can’t tell 
whether it is balanced. It is a slow, plodding book but I don’t 
think it is dull. 

I haven’t left this desk since March, what with the other 
book and this one. When I’m done I’ll probably go nuts like 
a spring lamb. Never have worked so hard and so long in my 
life. Probably good for me but I’m soft now physically and 
must get in some hard digging work when I finish. To harden 
up. 



Elizabeth, I wish you would come out here to help us cele- 
brate its finish. Couldn’t you and Larry [Lawrence Kiser, 
Elizabeth Otis’s husband] come out for Thanksgiving? We 
would have fun. Probably have to camp more or less but it 
would be a fine thing. You got very little rest this summer. 

Love to all, 
John 


To Pascal Covici 


Los Gatos 
[October 1938] 
Monday 

Dear Pat: 

We were in S. F. for a few days. Just got back today and 
found your letter waiting. We’ve been camping in the old 
kitchen. Carol hasn’t been able to type because of the mess. 
Today, however, our rooms are done and she began work. I 
don’t know how long it will take her. There have been delays 
about the house. I note your suggestion that I send pieces of 
the ms. Really I’d rather not. I want it all together and will 
send it all just as soon as I can. If you aren’t planning to 
publish before April, there’ll be plenty of time. But I’d rather 
not split it up. 

Of course I would like to believe your enthusiasm justified. 
I’m still tired and it seems pretty bad. And I am sure it will 
not be a popular book. I feel very sure of that. I think to the 
large numbers of readers it will be an outrageous book. I only 
hope it is better than it seems to me now. I’m rested enough 
now to start revisions. We’ll get it done just as soon as possi- 
ble. 

Love to Dorothy and Paco [Covici’s wife and his son, Pascal, 
Jr.] and to you 

John 


172 


So convinced was Steinbeck that The Grapes of 
Wrath would have no success that he wrote Eliza- 
beth Otis: 

“Look, Elizabeth, Pat talked in terms of very large 
first editions of this next book. I want to go on record 
as advising against it. This will not be a popular 
book. And it will be a loss to do anything except to 
print a small edition and watch and print more if 
there are more orders. Pat is darling and of course 
his statements are flattering but he is just a bit full 
of cheese.” 


To Elizabeth Otis 


[Los Gatos] 

[1938] 

Dear Elizabeth: 

This afternoon by express we are sending you the manu- 
script of The Grapes of Wrath. We hope to God you like it. 
Will you let us know first that you received it and second 
what you think of it. I forgot to put the enclosed in [the words 
and music of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”]. I should 
like the whole thing to go in as a page at the beginning. All 
the verses and the music. This is one of the great songs of the 
world, and as you read the book you will realize that the 
words have a special meaning in this book. And I should like 
the music to be put there in case anyone, any one forgets. The 
title. Battle Hymn of the Republic, in itself has a special 
meaning in the light of this book. 

Anyway there it is, and we will be hanging on your opin- 
ions because we know so well they will be honest and un- 
touched by publicity. 

Love to all of you, 
John 


173 



Elizabeth Otis wrote in November that she and her 
husband would come out to California to visit the 
Steinbecks. 

“We are crazy with joy,” he wrote her. They arrived 
in December. 


To Pascal Covici 


Los Gatos 
January i, 1939 

Dear Pat: 

I’m laid low for the first time in twenty years. Have to stay 
in bed for two weeks. Metabolic rate shockingly low. I think 
I worked myself past the danger point on that book. Broke out 
in a neuritis and only a basal metabolism test showed the 
reason. Anyway I’m in bed and can get some letters written 
for the first time in ages. 

We met Elizabeth and Larry in L.A. and brought them up. 
Enjoyed having them so much. E. and I went over some parts 
of the book and made a few minor changes. I’ve never heard 
whether you like the book so well now that it is finished. I 
think it is a pretty good job technically. At least I’m not as 
down-hearted about it as I usually am after finishing. 

I hope our wire made sense. The point is this — ^The fascist 
crowd will try to sabotage this book because it is revolution- 
ary. They try to give it the communist angle. However, The 
Battle Hymn is American and intensely so. Further, every 
American child learns it and then forgets the words. So if 
both words and music are there the book is keyed into the 
American scene from the beginning. Besides it is one of the 
finest hymns I know. 

By the way — are there any cheap editions of In Dubious 
Battle? It has been made required reading in a number of 
English courses of the University of California and one of the 
Professors asked and I didn’t know. I seem to remember that 
Blue Ribbon was going to do it. Did they? 

It is beautiful here. I can look out the window at the valley 


174 



below. But I want to get out and plant things. 

Write when you have time. It’s so long since I’ve been able 
to write a letter that I’m rusty at it. 

love to all 
John 


Later, in February, as he returned the proofs, he was 
to insist once again: 

“I meant, Pat, to print all all all the verses of the 
Battle Hymn. They’re all pertinent and they’re all 
exciting. And the music if you can.” 


To Pascal Covici 


Los Gatos 
January [3] 1939 

Dear Pat: 

Your wire came this morning and I was going to answer it 
but it is hard to say anything in a wire and besides the clerks 
have been getting things pretty garbled lately. Elizabeth and 
I went over the mss and made some changes. I made what I 
could. There are some I cannot make. When the tone or over- 
tone of normal speech requires a word, it is going in no mat- 
ter what the audience thinks. This book wasn’t written for 
delicate ladies. If they read it at all they’re messing in some- 
thing not their business. I’ve never changed a word to fit the 
prejudices of a group and I never will. The words I changed 
were those which Carol and Elizabeth said stopped the 
reader’s mind. I’ve never wanted to be a popular writer — ^you 
know that. And those readers who are insulted by normal 
events or language mean nothing to me. Look over the 
changes and I think they will be the ones you made. The 


175 



epithet shit-heads used on the people in the hamburger 
stand, I will not change. There is no term like it. And if it 
stops the reader the hell with him. It means something pre- 
cise and I won’t trade preciseness even if it’s colloquial pre- 
ciseness. 


Elizabeth Otis recalls that one of the purposes of her 
visit was to see if he would compromise on some of 
the strong language. The publishers had urged her 
to, and she asked him if it would be all right if she 
found a way to remove offending words while re- 
taining the tone of the characters’ speech. He said 
she could try. She sat at a desk going over the col- 
loquial obscenities while Steinbeck lay on a couch, 
in great pain from sciatica. Eventually she produced 
a version that satisfied him. She had promised to 
telegraph these modifications to New York so that 
the book could go to the printer. Dictating the long 
telegram over the telephone. Miss Otis had to spec- 
ify the four-letter words for which she was sending 
substitutes. But the Western Union operator balked. 
She couldn’t possibly send such language in a tele- 
gram, she said. Miss Otis no longer remembers what 
arguments she used, but she was very firm and 
finally successful. The proofs were corrected. 

Steinbeck continues to Covici; 


Now — about all the other books being practice. It isn’t true. 
I’ve been working three years on this book. In a sense, every- 
thing one does is practice for something else. But Pat, let this 
book ride or fall on its own story. I think the subject is large 
enough to get by. Actually if there has been one rigid rule in 
my books, it is that I as me had no right in them. And if that 
is so of the text, let it be so of the publicity. You really don’t 
need me in it. If you do — then the book is a failure. 

I’m getting along pretty well. Should be let up in a week or 
so. It was a surprise to me when I went down. Haven’t been 
sick since I was sixteen. 

I think I wrote everything else in the other letter. 

love to you and 
Dorothy and Paco 
John 


176 


On January 9, 1939, Pascal Covici wrote Steinbeck 
that he, Harold Guinzburg, President of The Viking 
Press, and Marshall Best, Managing Editor, had 
been “emotionally exhausted after reading The 
Grapes of Wrath. ” Harold Guinzburg had said, “I 
would not change a single comma in the whole 
book,” and Marshall Best had called it “the most 
important piece of fiction on our list” as he an- 
nounced that the initial advertising appropriation 
would be $10,000. “It seemed like a Mnd of sacrilege 
to suggest revisions in so grand a book,” Covici went 
on, but: 

“We felt that we would not be good publishers if we 
failed to point out to you any weaknesses or faults 
that struck us. One of these is the ending. 

“Your idea is to end the book on a great symbolic 
note, that life must go on and will go on with a 
greater love and sympathy and understanding for 
our fellowmen. Nobody could fail to be moved by the 
incident of Rose of Sharon giving her breast to the 
starving man, yet, taken as the finale of such a book 
with all its vastness and surge, it struck us on reflec- 
tion as being all too abrupt. It seems to us that the 
last few pages need building up. The incident needs 
leading up to, so that the meeting with the starving 
man is not so much an accident or chance encoun- 
ter, but more an integral part of the saga.” 

In a postscript, he added: 

“Marshall has just called my attention to the fact 
that de Maupassant in one of his short stories ‘Mid- 
Summer Idyll’ has a woman give her breast to a 
starving man in a railway train. Is it important?” 


177 



To Pascal Covici 


Los Gatos 
January i6, 1939 

Dear Pat: 

I have your letter today. And I am sorry but I cannot change 
that ending. It is casual — there is no fruity climax, it is not 
more important than any other part of the book — if there is 
a symbol, it is a survival symbol not a love symbol, it must 
be an accident, it must be a stranger, and it must be quick. 
To build this stranger into the structure of the book would be 
to warp the whole meaning of the book. The fact that the 
loads don’t know him, don’t care about him, have no ties to 
him — that is the emphasis. The giving of the breast has no 
more sentiment than the giving of a piece of bread. I’m sorry 
if that doesn’t get over. It will maybe. I’ve been on this design 
and balance for a long time and I think I know how I want 
it. And if I’m wrong. I’m alone in my wrongness. As for the 
Maupassant story, I’ve never read it but I can’t see that it 
makes much difference. There are no new stories and I 
wouldn’t like them if there were. The incident of the earth 
mother feeding by the breast is older than literature. You 
know that I have never been touchy about changes, but I 
have too many thousands of hours on this book, every inci- 
dent has been too carefully chosen and its weight judged and 
fitted. The balance is there. One other thing — I am not writ- 
ing a satisfying story. I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s 
nerves to rags, I don’t want him satisfied. 

And still one more thing — ^I tried to write this book the way 
lives are being lived not the way books are written. 

This letter sounds angry. I don’t mean it to be. I know 
that books lead to a strong deep climax. This one doesn’t 
except by implication and the reader must bring the im- 
plication to it. If he doesn’t, it wasn’t a book for him to 
read. Throughout I’ve tried to make the reader participate 
in the actuality, what he takes from it will be scaled en- 
tirely on his own depth or hollowness. There are five lay- 
ers in this book, a reader will find as many as he can and 

178 



he won’t find more than he has in himself. 

I seem to be getting well slowly. The pain is going away. 
Nerves still pretty tattered but rest will stop that before too 
long. I fret pretty much at having to stay in bed. Guess I was 
pretty close to a collapse when I finally went to bed. I feel the 
result of it now. 

Love to you all, 
John 


To the McIntosh and Otis staff 


[Los Gatos] 
January [20] 1939 

Dear All: 

Actually I’ve been in bed two weeks and the pain getting 
worse instead of better. This afternoon I went to an os- 
teopath. I have always thought them little better than witch 
doctors. He said a vertebra was out, flipped it, and the pain 
went away instantly. I’m holding my breath but that’s six 
hours ago and it isn’t back yet. I’ll go to him again tomorrow. 
Pray for me. That pain was getting me nuts. 

Mavis’s letter came today with check [royalty from Of Mice 
and Men on tour]. I was surprised to hear the show was in 
Philadelphia. Wonder if they are ever coming out here. After 
the fair opens there will be thousands of stray visitors in S.F. 
And the coast would welcome that play I’m pretty sure. The 
check was lots larger this week too. 

I feel so good tonight I could yell. It’s the first time without 
pain in six weeks and I’ll have the first good sleep in that 
time tonight. 

Carol is planting things and I, big slug, just look on. We put 
27 goldfish in the new pool today. 

Guess that’s all. I wonder if you could get any kind of itiner- 
ary from the Sam Harris office. Maybe they haven’t one. 

Love to you all, 
John 


179 



To The National Institute 
of Arts and Letters 


Los Gatos 
January 31, 1939 

Dear Mrs. Vanamee: 

I am grateful for the honor of having been elected to mem- 
bership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Please 
convey my thanks to the committee. 

Sincerely 
John Steinbeck 


In February, Pascal Covici asked Steinbeck for the 
original manuscript of The Grapes of Wrath. 


To Pascal Covici 


[Los Gatos] 
[Received 
February 23, 1939] 

Dear Pat: 

I keep having to say no all the time and I hate it. It’s about 
the manuscript this time. You see I feel that this is Carol’s 
book so I gave her the manuscript. For myself I don’t like 
anything personal to intrude on this or any other book but 
this one in particular. I think a book should be itself, com- 
plete and in print. What went into the writing of it is no 
business of the reader. I disapprove of having my crabbed 
180 



hand exposed. The fact that my writing is small may be a 
marvel but it is also completely unimportant to the book. No, 
I want this book to be itself with no history and no writer. 

Carol has other reasons for not wanting it ever known that 
the ms exists. Those people who beg things for Spain are 
after us a good deal. And Carol doesn’t want to give this ms 
away and she knows the campaign will start if any attention 
is drawn to the script. And of course it is hers. 

I’m sorry Pat, but do you really think we’ve lost a single 
reader by refusing to do the usual things? By not speaking at 
luncheons do you think I’ve lost sales? I don’t. And if it were 
true I’d rather lose that kind of readers. Let’s just keep the 
whole personal emphasis out. It can be done. I haven’t been 
to a tea or a dinner in my life and I’m quite sure no one 
minds, people forget. Let’s have no personality at all. I think 
the book has enough of its own to carry it. I hope you don’t 
mind too much. 

love to Dorothy and to Paco 
John 


In a later letter to Elizabeth Otis he again refers to 
the use of the “Battle Hymn” in the make-up of the 
book: 

“This song business is very funny. I don’t know what 
is the matter with Pat. But it makes me wonder 
whether he got the dedication of this book straight. 
Will you please see that he did. It is supposed to read: 

to Carol 

who willed this book 
to Tom 
who lived it.” 

Tom was Tom Collins, a psychologist who managed 
a government camp for migrants near Weedpatch 

in the Bakersfield area. 

# 



To Pascal Covici 


[Los Gatos] 

[Received March 31, 1939] 

Dear Pat: 

The books came today [advance copies of The Grapes of 
Wrath] and I am immensely pleased with them. It is a good 
job. But what with family and relatives I’ll have to have 
about five more copies. Will you send them please and bill 
me? I really need them to prevent hurt feelings. 

I think the way you laid in the Hymn on the end papers 
is swell. The pageage is less than you contemplated, isn’t 
'it? And I’m glad. 850 pages is a frightening length. You 
know I would like to see the New York reviews. Would 
you please save them for me? I understand Joe Jackson is 
going to do it for the Herald Tribune. I’m glad of that. I 
guess that is all. I just wanted to tell you how much I like 
the book. 

John 


Royalty checks continued to surprise him. “What an 
awful lot of money,” he vnrote Elizabeth Otis on 
April 17. 

“I don’t think I ever saw so much in one piece before. 
Well, Carol will squirrel it away for the lean times 
that are surely coming.” 

He had been reading reviews: 

“Do you notice that nearly every reviewer hates 
the general chapters? They hate to be told any- 
thing outright. It should be concealed in the text. 
Fortunately I’m not writing for reviewers. And 
other people seem to like the generals. It’s inter- 


182 



esting, I think probably it is the usual revolt 
against something they aren’t used to.” 

And next day: 


“Thanks for the check. I don’t expect these things 
and they are always surprises. The telegrams and 
telephones — all day long — speak . . . speak . . . speak, 
like hungry birds. Why the hell do people insist on 
speaking? The telephone is a thing of horror. And 
the demands for money — scholarships, memorial 
prizes. One man wants 47,000 dollars to buy a news- 
paper which will be liberal — this is supposed to run 
with a checkbook. Carol turned down the most ab- 
surd offer of all yesterday, to write a script in Holly- 
wood. Carol — over the telephone: ‘What the hell 
would we do with $5,000 a week? Don’t bother us!’ ” 


To Carl Wilhelmson 


Los Gatos 
[June 7, 1939] 

Dear Carl: 

Of course I’d like to see you. The ranch is wonderful now 
and I resent any time spent away from it. Cherries are just 
getting ripe and the vegetable garden is finally supplying 
food and we make our own butter and cheese and have lots 
of milk to drink. I bought a cow and a neighbor takes care of 
it delivering to us three quarts a day which gives us all the 
cream and butter we can use. It’s really pretty fine. And the 
cow just eats pasturage that would go to waste if she weren’t 
there. 

I did a silly thing yesterday, coughed hard and wrenched 
my back. Down in Salinas there was a man who sneezed and 
broke his right arm. Everyone laughed to beat hell but his 
arm was broken just the same. And I get no sympathy about 
this back either. 

I’m glad you like this last book. It was a terrible amount of 
work. Never worked so hard in my life nor so long before. 


183 



And I found something I didn’t know about and that is ex- 
haustion. I never thought I could get that way. But I found I 
could. 

Our Toby Dog got to thinking too much and one day he just 
walked away and never came back. The Thoreau of the dog 
world, I guess. Now we have another dog. A big Dobermann 
who doesn’t think much at all and is much happier for it. 
Also, having short hair, he doesn’t get ticks and burrs. 

Yes, please do come down but remember about calling be- 
cause I would hate to miss you. 

affectionately, 

john 


To Dick Pearce 

OF THE PRESS CLUB, SAN FRANCISCO 


Los Gatos 
[June 1939] 

Dear Mr. Pearce: 

I’m awfully glad of your letter and I wish I could accept 
your invitation. But I’m working at a job that doesn’t let 
me stay still long enough to accept anything. Thanks just 
the same. One of the reasons I would like to accept is that 
I would like to be in the Press Club and not be thrown 
out. The only time I ever was there I was thrown out. 
Happened this way. Dick Oliver and I were in shiny eve- 
ning clothes and no money and no parties and he said he 
was a member of the Press Club and we could go sit there 
until our bus left. It was 2:30 a.m. then. And I thanked 
him and it was raining. So we went in and it was nice 
and a fire was burning as I remember. But the attendant 
didn’t remember Dick and couldn’t find his name on the 
list of members. He insisted that we go out again and 
meant it. So we went out. And as you probably know if 
you’ve ever been put out of a place, you feel a kind of un- 
pleasant feeling about it and I’d like some time to sit by 
your fire with that fine feeling that no one was going to 

184 



toss me out. All this was years ago but Jesus, it was a wet 
night. 

Again thanks for your invitation. I wish I could go. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


By this time film rights to Of Mice and Men and The 
Grapes of Wrath had been sold, and work on the 
screenplays of both was going forward. 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Los Gatos 
June 22, 1939 

Dear Elizabeth: 

This whole thing is getting me down and I don’t know what 
to do about it. The telephone never stops ringing, telegrams 
all the time, fifty to seventy-five letters a day all wanting 
something. People who won’t take no for an answer sending 
books to be signed. I don’t know what to do. Would you mind 
phoning Viking and telling them not to forward any more 
letters but to send them to your office? I’ll willingly pay for 
the work to be done but even to handle a part of the letters 
now would take a full time secretary and I will not get one 
if it is the last thing I do. Something has to be worked out or 
I am finished writing. I went south to work and I came back 
to find Carol just about hysterical. She had just been pushed 
beyond endurance. There is one possibility and that is that 
I go out of the country. I thought this thing would die down 
but it is only getting worse day by day. 

I hope to be home for about five weeks now but I doubt it. 
I brought [Eugene] Solow and [Lewis] Milestone [author of 

185 



screenplay and director of film of Of Mice and Men] home 
with me and we are working on a final script of Mice and it 
sounds very good to me. 

About the Digest thing, I really would be happier if it 
weren’t done [an abridgement of The Grapes of Wrath]. I 
don’t like digests. If I could have written it shorter I 
would have, and even a chunk wouldn’t be good particu- 
larly since Pat refused to give material to anybody else 
but S.R.L. [Saturday Review of Literature] and thereby 
made a hell of a lot of people mad at me. 

I saw Johnson in Hollywood [Nunnally Johnson, who was 
writing the film script of The Grapes of Wrath] and he is 
going well and apparently they intend to make the picture 
straight, at least so far, and they sent a producer into the field 
with Tom Collins and he got sick at what he saw and they 
offered Tom a job as technical assistant which is swell be- 
cause he’ll howl his head off if they get out of hand. 

See you all soon, I hope. 

Love, 

John 


To Carlton A. Sheffield 


Los Gatos 
June 23, 1939 

Dear Juk: 

I got home three days ago for a little while and found about 
five hundred letters that had to be answered. So I have been 
answering them as quickly as possible and have saved yours 
until last so that I could give some leisure to it, and leisure 
is a thing I have almost lost track of. Funny darned thing 
because I have such a fine flair for laziness. The heat is on 
me now and really going strong. Remember when I used to 
like to get mail so much that I even tried to get on sucker 
lists? Well, I wish them days was back. 

Carl Wilhelmson phoned that he wanted to come down 
Sunday. I’ll be glad to see him. He is very changed. Quite 

186 



gay and looks fine and has filled out. Marriage has been 
good for him. Haven’t seen anybody else. Toby Street had 
a fortieth birthday party and I went to it and saw Bob 
Cathcart there. 

Yes, the Associated Farmers have tried to make me retract 
things by very sly methods. Unfortunately for them the 
things are thoroughly documented and the materials turned 
over to the La Follette Committee and when it was killed by 
pressure groups all evidence went to the Attorney General. 
So when they write and ask for proof, I simply ask them to 
ask the Senate to hold open hearings of the Civil Liberty 
Committee and they will get immediate documentary proof 
of my statements although some of them may go to jail as a 
result of it. And you have no idea how quickly that stops the 
argument. They can’t shoot me now because it would be too 
obvious and because I have placed certain informations in 
the hands of J. Edgar Hoover in case I take a nose dive. So I 
think I am personally safe enough except for automobile 
accidents etc. and rape and stuff like that so I am a little 
careful not to go anywhere alone nor to do anything without 
witnesses. Seems silly but I have been carefully instructed by 
people who know the ropes. 


Many years later he wrote to his friend Chase Hor- 
ton: 

“Let me tell you a story. When The Grapes of Wrath 
got loose, a lot of people were pretty mad at me. The 
undersheriff of Santa Clara County was a friend of 
mine and he told me as follows — ‘Don’t you go into 
any hotel room alone. Keep records of every minute 
and when you are off the ranch travel with one or 
two friends but particularly, don’t stay in a hotel 
alone.’ ‘Why?’ I asked. He said, ‘Maybe I’m sticking 
my neck out but the boys got a rape case set up 
for you. You get alone in a hotel and a dame will 
come in, tear off her clothes, scratch her face and 
scream and you try to talk yourself out of that 
one. They won’t touch your book but there’s easier 
ways.’ ” 


So they have gone to the whispering campain (how in hell do 
you spell that) but unfortunately that method only sells more 
books. I’m due to topple within the next two years but I have 

187 



that little time left to me. And in many ways I’ll be glad when 
the turn of the thing comes. As it must inevitably. 

Hope it isn’t too hot up there. 

love 

jon 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Los Gatos 
July 20, 1939 
Thursday 

Dear Elizabeth: 

Will you tell Pat please, that if I ever refer anything to him 
by a second person I want him to refuse it. If I want it I’ll ask 
him myself. 

The vilification of me out here from the large landowners 
and bankers is pretty bad. The latest is a rumor started by 
them that the Okies hate me and have threatened to kill me 
for lying about them. This made all the papers. Tom Collins 
says that when his Okies read this smear they were so mad 
they wanted to bum something down. 

I’m frightened at the rolling might of this damned thing. 
It is completely out of hand — I mean a kind of hysteria about 
the book is growing that is not healthy. 

About the pictures — ^I don’t know. [Nunnally] Johnson 
wrote that he was nearly finished with script. The Hays office 
will be the tough nut since it is owned outright in N. Y. But 
the forces that want the picture made are rallying and they 
are both numerous and voluble. Meanwhile the Associated 
Farmers keep up a steady stream of accusation that I am first 
a liar and second a communist. Their vilification has a qual- 
ity of hysteria too. 

I shudder for you in the heat. I detest the New York heat. 

Love to you all, 

John 


188 



To Elizabeth Otis 


Los Gatos 
October 1939 

Dear Elizabeth: 

It’s a beautiful morning and I am just sitting in it and 
enjoying it. Everything is ripe now, apples, pears, grapes, 
walnuts. Carol has made pickles and chutney, canned 
tomatoes. Prunes and raisins are on the drying trays. The 
cellar smells of apples and wine. The berries are ripe and 
every bird in the country is here — slightly tipsy and very 
noisy. The frogs are singing about a rain coming but they can 
be wrong. It’s nice. 

Pat is in S.F. We’ll go up and get him on Friday and bring 
him down here. Will also see the Jacksons — first time in 
months. 

Carol is well and rested. And Grapes dropped from the 
head of the list to second place out here and about time too. 
It is far too far when Jack Benny mentions it in his program. 
Altogether may be some kind of new existence is opening up. 
I don’t know. The last year has been a nightmare all in all. 
But now I’m ordering a lot of books to begin study. And I’ll 
work in the laboratory. 

I should go out and shoot some bluejays. They are driving 
the birds badly. Mean things they are who just raise hell 
apparently with nothing but mischief in their minds. But I’ll 
wait until Carol wakes up before I start shooting. 

One nice thing to think of is the speed of obscurity. Grapes 
is not first now. In a month it will be off the list and in six 
months Til be forgotten. 

Love, 

John 


189 






. .gomettfing 
terrible is about 
to Ijapperi. . !’ 





O Carlton A. Sheffield 


Los Gatos 
November 13, 1939 

Dear Dook: 

It’s pretty early in the morning. I got up to milk the cow. 

I’m finishing oif a complete revolution. It’s amazing how 
every one piled in to regiment me, to make a symbol of me, 
to regulate my life and work. I’ve just tossed the whole thing 
overboard. I never let anyone interfere before and I can’t see 
why I should now. This ultimate freedom receded. I’m keep- 
ing more of it than I need or even want, like a reservoir. The 
two most important [things], I suppose — at least they seem so 
to me — are freedom from respectability and most important 
— ^freedom from the necessity of being consistent. Lack of 
those two can really tie you down. Of course all this publicity 
has been bad if I tried to move about but here on the ranch 
it has no emphasis. People up here— the few we see— don’t 
read much and don’t remember what they read, and my pro- 
jected work is not likely to create any hysteria. 

It’s funny, Dook. I know what in a vague way this work is 
about. I mean I know its tone and texture and to an extent its 
field and I find that I have no education. I have to go back to 
school in a way. I’m completely without mathematics and I 
have to learn something about abstract mathematics. I have 
some biology but must have much more and the twins bio- 
physics and bio-chemistry are closed to me. So I have to go 
back and start over. I bought half the stock in Ed’s lab which 
gives me equipment, a teacher, a library to work in. 

I’m going on about myself but in a sense it’s more than me 
— ^it’s you and everyone else. The world is sick now. There are 
things in the tide pools easier to understand than Stalinist, 


193 



Hitlerite, Democrat, capitalist confusion, and voodoo. So I’m 
going to those things which are relatively more lasting to 
find a new basic picture. I have too a conviction that a new 
world is growing under the old, the way a new finger nail 
grows under a bruised one. I think all the economists and 
sociologists will be surprised some day to find that they did 
not forsee nor understand it. Just as the politicos of Rome 
could not have forseen that the social-political-ethical world 
for two thousand years would grow out of the metaphysical 
gropings of a few quiet poets. I think the same thing is hap- 
penening now. Communist, Fascist, Democrat may find that 
the real origin of the future lies on the microscope plates of 
obscure young men, who, puzzled with order and disorder in 
quantum and neutron, build gradually a picture which will 
seep down until it is the fibre of the future. 

The point of all this is that I must make a new start. I’ve 
worked the novel — I know it as far as I can take it. I never did 
think much of it — a clumsy vehicle at best. And I don’t know 
the form of the new but I know there is a new which will be 
adequate and shaped by the new thinking. Anyway, there is 
a picture of my confusion. How is yours? 

There is so much confusion now — emotional hysteria 
which passes for thought and blind faith which passes for 
analysis. 

I suspect you are ready for a change. How would you es- 
cape the general picture? We’re catching the waves of nerves 
from Europe and making a few of our own. 

Write when you can. 

John 


194 



To Elizabeth Otis 


[Los Gatos] 
December 15, 1939 
Thursday 

Dear Elizabeth: 

I have so much to tell you that it will take some time. I’ll 
go about it slowly- Your letter first. Many thanks for the 
$13,000. But remember the excitement when the N. Ameri- 
can Review actually paid $90 (on The Red Pony)? Such ex- 
citement will never come again. 

There is no question of a cut version of Grapes in paper 
covers. I should never consent to it. So that is out. C. [Covici] 
can get as stubborn as he wants about it. 

Pictures — We went down in the afternoon and that evening 
saw Grapes at Twentieth-Century. Zanuck has more than 
kept his word. He has a hard, straight picture in which the 
actors are submerged so completely that it looks and feels 
like a documentary film and certainly it has a hard, truthful 
ring. No punches were pulled — ^in fact, with descriptive mat- 
ter removed, it is a harsher thing than the book, by far. It 
seems unbelievable but it is true. The next afternoon we 
went to see Mice and it is a beautiful job. Here Milestone has 
done a curious lyrical thing. It hangs together and is under- 
played. You will like it. It opens the 22nd of December in 
Hollywood. As for Grapes, it opens sometime in January. 
There is so much hell being raised in this state that Zanuck 
will not release simultaneously. He’ll open in N.Y. and move 
gradually west, letting the publicity precede it. He even, to 
find out, issued a statement that it would never be shown in 
California and got a ton of mail, literally, in protest the next 
day. He has hired attorneys to fight any local censorship and 
is trying to get Thomas Benton for the posters. All this is far 
beyond our hopes. 

Now I come to a very curious thing. [Victor] Fleming the 
director \Go7ie With The Wind] and Spence Tracy have 
wanted to make The Red Pony. They are nuts to make it. 
They talked to me about it and I slept over it but didn’t sleep 


195 



at all. It seemed to me that these men are expensive and good 
men. I don’t know whether anything will come out of it, but 
here is what I suggested. They were to make the film — no 
salaries. If necessary, money to make it should be collected 
by subscriptions. I would not only give the story for nothing 
but would work on the script. V/hen finished, it would be 
distributed to any town or city which would guarantee to use 
the proceeds to endow one or more children’s beds in the 
local hospitals. Tremendous prices would be asked for seats. 
They were very enthusiastic. Said they thought they could 
get not only the best people but equipment and film for noth- 
ing. Maybe this is nuts but no film has ever been made for a 
definite purpose. Tracy is particularly moved because his 
own little son had infantile paralysis which crippled it. 
Fleming says that such a film would not make less than 
$2,000,000 and that’s a lot of endowed beds. 


He was also planning with Ed Ricketts to study the 
coastal waters north of San Francisco for a collec- 
tors’ handbook, and to make a more elaborate expe- 
dition to Baja California, which would result in Sea 
of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Re- 
search, to be published in 1941. 

Now — the collecting. I got a truck and we are equipping it. 
We don’t go to Mexico until March, but we have the hand- 
book to do first and we’ll go north in about a week I guess for 
the solstice tides. It will be a tough job and I’m not at all sure 
we can get it done by March. And I have a terrific job of 
reading to do. Ricketts is all right but I am a popular writer 
and I have to build some trust in the minds of biologists. This 
handbook will help to do that. The Mexican book will be 
interesting to a much larger audience, and there is no ques- 
tion that Viking can have it. 

Yesterday we went to Berkeley with a design for our travel- 
ing refrigeration plant and it is being built. Also ordered a 
Bausch and Lomb SKW microscope. This is a beauty with a 
side bar and drum nose piece. Primarily a dissecting micro- 
scope. My dream for some time in the future is a research 
scope with an oil immersion lens, but that costs about 600 
dollars and I’m not getting it right now. The SKW will be fine 
for the trip. But that research model, Oh boy! Oh boy! Some- 
time I’ll have one. It may interest you to know that business 
196 



at the lab is picking up. I can’t tell you what all this means 
to me, in happiness and energy. I was washed up and now 
I’m alive again, with work to be done and worth doing. 

I guess that’s all. 

Love, 

John 


To Carlton A. Sheffield 


Los Gatos 
January i6, 1940 

Dear Dook: 

I’m home this week cleaning up some copy so I got your 
letter early. I’ve been spending the weeks in the Grove and 
coming home week ends. I’ve been studying harder than I 
ever did in school and doing some independent research also. 

Reason for this work is pretty obvious, I guess. Apart from 
the interest I have in it, I like the discipline. I’ve grown more 
and more dissatisfied with my work and this will help it, I 
hope. Besides, it will drop me out of this damnable 
popularity, for, while it will be a good book, there won’t be 
a hell of a lot of people who will want it. I’m very sick of this 
prominence business. 

Carol gave me Sandburg, Lincoln for Xmas. I already had 
The Prairie Years. Beautiful job. 

After dinner now, and a very nice dinner with curry. Carol 
made chutney this year with fruit from the orchard and it is 
wonderful. Tremendous rains almost washed our road out 
but it held waiting for the next rain. We’re so far up that 
roads are quite a problem. 

I have so much to learn and all the time I find holes in 
knowledge — ^this isn’t known, that has not been investigated. 
I’m doing (to me) fascinating work trying to relax anemones 
before killing them. They are terribly retractile and must be 
thoroughly anaesthetized before the formalin is introduced. 
Cocaine will do it but that is expensive. Now I have some- 
thing I think will work but it will have to be carefully worked 


197 



and quantitatively. It is — heavy mixture of oxygen in the 
water which gets them very drunk, then a weak solution of 
aspirin (believe it or not). When they are deeply inert — a shot 
of epsom salts, fairly strong solution and, after six hours a 
formalin wick. I foozled it last week with too much aspirin, 
but I think it will work when I get the amounts worked out 
and that takes many tries. Sound silly? 

John 


The “damnable popularity” became almost an 
obsession. 

“You say you are afraid of me,” he wrote Sheffield 
shortly afterward. “I’m afraid of myself. I mean the 
creature that has been built up. Luckily we don’t 
take a paper so I don’t see the things you do. Last 
night one of my pictures opened in L.A. Fox public- 
ity didn’t say it but just insinuated that I had 
sneaked down for it. Today ten calls have come from 
L.A. asking if I was there. It’s silly but it’s crazy silly. 
I’ve kind of depended on its dying soon, and it will. 
Some one else will be on the griddle. Meanwhile, 
here at the ranch it isn’t bad. The phone ordinarily 
doesn’t ring once a day and there are no papers. So 
you see, you are probably more in contact with this 
person you are afraid of than I am. I get more cut off 
all the time because people are, like you, afraid of 
this thing that has been built up, and I don’t see 
them often. Knowing I am watched, I don’t go any 
place. Knowing I’ll be quoted, I don’t say anything.” 



To Elizabeth Otis 


Los Gatos 
February 24, 1940 

Dear Elizabeth: 

I haven’t written for a long time. But I have had a beastly 
case of intestinal flu, a painful and knockout full dose and 
am just coming out of it now. Don’t know where I picked it 
up but it was a lovely flower. 

There is really a lot to answer and I hope I don’t leave 
anything out. First the enormous check came yesterday and 
Carol has gone down now to get our income tax out of the 
way. It will be something like forty thousand dollars with 
state and federal. But don’t think we are crabbing. We’re 
delighted to pay it. It’s a terrific amount of money we’re mak- 
ing. Carol is putting it away carefully, well knowing that 
probably we’ll have to live on it the rest of our lives. 

I’ll give you some little idea of how the Mexican trip goes. 
Our plans have changed. The country we want to get to is so 
difficult that we now want to take a purse seiner from Mon- 
terey and go all the way by boat. Said boat is 76 feet long. 
Three in the crew and Carol and Ed and I would be the whole 
personnel. Carol would have to sleep in the wheelhouse and 
the rest of us in the forecastle. Each of us would have to stand 
a watch and the other work to be divided. 

There is one other thing I would like you to consider for 
future reference. This boat charter is expensive and as I said 
we like the thing to pay its own way. If we do go, do you think 
you could sell the log as a series of articles? It would be just 
a day-to-day account of what happens, together with descrip- 
tion of one of the least known areas in the world. Not fantas- 
tic adventure or anything like that but a clear description of 
such a boat trip. Just think about it and later we can talk it 
over. 

I guess that really is all. 

Love to everybody, 
John 


199 



On February 28, 1940, four days after his preceding 
letter, he announced to Elizabeth Otis: 

“We’ll be off to Mexico within a week. I’m terribly 
excited as I guess my handwriting shows.” 


To Elizabeth Otis 


[Aboard Western Flyer] 
March 26, 1940 

Dear Elizabeth: 

Heaven knows when you will get this. We’re putting in to 
Loreto tomorrow and I will mail it. But I don’t know how 
often mail goes out of Loreto. It is a tiny place, the first town 
of the lot. Its church was built in 1535. We’ve been working 
hard, collecting, preserving and making notes. No log. There 
hasn’t been time. It takes about eight hours to preserve and 
label the things taken at the tide. We have thousands of 
specimens. And it will probably be several years before they 
are all identified. So far the trip has been wonderful. Last 
night we went high into the mountains on muleback to hunt 
bighorn sheep. Went with a rancher on a little hidden ranch. 
No sheep and I was glad of that. And yesterday we were 
collecting in a tiny bay when a huge manta ray came in. He 
was about 60 feet across so we got out of the water fast. 

Good Friday we were in La Paz and went to mass. And they 
sang for the stations of the cross an ancient Spanish chant 
like a madrigal. The priest had a beautiful voice, true and 
clear, and the music had still the hint of North Africa and 
went to quarter tones. We’re over two weeks out now and 
must be back at the end of six weeks. So one third is gone. I 
only hope the rest of the trip is as good as the first has been. 
We’ll be in Guaymas in about a week and our mail will be 
waiting for us there. I’m tired and deep burned with the sun. 
So I’ll let this ride as it is. I hope everything goes well with 
you. 

We haven’t heard any news of Europe since we left and 


200 




don’t much want to. And the people we meet on the shore 
have never heard of Europe and they seem to be the better 
for it. This whole trip is doing what we had hoped it might, 
given us a world picture not dominated by Hitler and Mos- 
cow but something more vital and surviving than either. 
From the simple good Indians on the shore to the inverte- 
brates there is a truer thing than ideologies. 

Good-bye. Fll write from Guaymas. 

Love to you all, 

John 


To the McIntosh and Otis staff 


[Aboard Western Flyer] 
Guaymas [Mexico] 

April 6, 1940 

Dear All: 

We got in here yesterday. Your letter was waiting for us at 
the consulate. And it was awfully good to hear from you. 
Monday we’ll leave here and move down the coast and then 
run for home. We’ll be home two weeks from Monday or the 
22nd. Getting a little homesick too. Last night we drank some 
very old brandy and our crew went on the town. The engi- 
neer never did come back. He’s probably in jail. I’ll go in and 
look in a little while. There were fights and explosions. The 
captain got very drunk and isn’t up yet. The two seamen are 
also in their bunks. I just got happy and had fun and so did 
Carol. Toward the end Carol and an Indian girl were min- 
gling tears at the incredible beauty and terror of life. The 
Indian girl subsequently passed out and was sent ashore in 
a rowboat. We sent in for a guitar player and made the whole 
gulf horrible with song. Well, anyway, it was a party. But 
we’d been fourteen days at sea and it will do the whole crew 
good if they are alive at all. 

Carol is beginning to be homesick for her garden. But she 


201 



has been marvelous on this trip. I don’t know any other 
woman who could have done it. 

Have to go ashore now. 

Love to you all, 
John 


In early April, Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt made an 
inspection tour of California migrant camps. Ac- 
cording to The New York Times of April 3, 1940, 
when a reporter questioned her, she replied, “I 
never have thought The Grapes of Wrath was exag- 
gerated.” This report probably prompted the follow- 
ing letter. 


To Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt 


Los Gatos 
April 24, 1940 

Dear Mrs. Roosevelt: 

I am very sorry I was out of the country when you were last 
on the coast, for I have looked forward to meeting you with 
great pleasure. Perhaps on your next swing, I shall be here. 

Meanwhile — may I thank you for your words. I have been 
called a liar so constantly that sometimes I wonder whether 
I may not have dreamed the things I saw and heard in the 
period of my research. 

Again thank you and I hope I may not miss you again. 

Sincerely yours, 
John Steinbeck 


202 



On May 2, 1940, Steinbeck received a letter from the 
Reverend L. M. Birkhead, National Director of the 
Friends of Democracy, an organization which he 
described as engaged in “combatting the pro-Nazi 
and anti-Semitic propaganda so widespread 
throughout the country.” 

“I hope you will not think I am impertinent,” he 
wrote, “but our organization has had put to it the 
problem of your nationality. There is very wide- 
spread propaganda, particularly among extreme 
reactionary religionists that you are Jewish and that 
Grapes of Wrath is Jewish propaganda.” 


To Reverend L. M. Birkhead 


Los Gatos 
May 7, 1940 

Dear Mr. Birkhead: 

I am answering your letter with a good deal of sadness. I 
am sad for a time when one must know a man’s race before 
his work can be approved or disapproved. It does not seem 
important to me whether I am Jewish or not, and I know that 
a statement of mine is useless if an interested critic wishes 
to ride a preconceived thesis. I cannot see how The Grapes 
of Wrath can be Jewish propaganda but then I have heard it 
called Communist propaganda also. 

It happens that I am not Jewish and have no Jewish blood 
but it only happens that way. I find that I do not experience 
any pride that it is so. 

If you wish — here is my racial map although you know 
what an intelligent anthropologist thinks of racial theories. 
As you will see, I am the typical American Airedale. 

My grandfather on my father’s side was German, the son 
of a farming family which lived and still lives on a fairly 
large farm near Diisseldorf. My grandfather came to Amer- 
ica in the late fifties in time to be in the Civil War. There has 
been little communication with the German branch since 
then except for a visit to Germany about four years ago by a 


203 



second cousin of mine. He reports that the family still lives 
on the same farm and that they appear to be good citizens, 
intensely blond and quite able to prove the nonsensical thing 
the Nazis insist on. Their name and ours by the way was 
Grosssteinbeck but the three s’s in a row were an outrage to 
America so my grandfather dropped the first syllable in the 
interest of spelling. 

My German grandfather married a New England woman 
whose family name was Dickson who came from Leomin- 
ster, Massachusetts, where her family had lived since the 
middle seventeenth century. 

On my mother’s side my blood is all north Irish, my grand- 
father whose name was Hamilton having come from Mulk- 
eraugh near Londonderry and his wife whose name was 
Feaghan from nearby. 

Anyway there it is. Use it or don’t use it, print it or not. 
Those who wish for one reason or another to believe me 
Jewish will go on believing it while men of good will and 
good intelligence won’t care one way or another. 

I can prove these things of course — ^but when I shall have 
to — the American democracy will have disappeared. 

Yours is only one of many letters I have received on the 
same subject. It is the first I have answered and I think it is 
the last. I fully recognize your position and do not in the least 
blame you for it. I am only miserable for the time and its 
prejudice that prompts it. 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 

P. S. On both sides and for many generations we are blond 
and blue-eyed to a degree to arouse the admiration and per- 
haps envy of the dark-complexioned Hitler. 


In the spring of 1940 the Pulitzer Prizes were an- 
nounced. Steinbeck won the fiction award for The 
Grapes of Wrath, Carl Sandburg the history award 
for Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, and William 
Saroyan the drama prize for The Time of Your Life 

ao4 



— an honor he refused. Steinbeck commented to Jo- 
seph Henry Jackson: 

“Bill knows what he wants to do and I don’t see that 
it is anybody’s business. His motives and his im- 
pulses are his own private property. Do you want to 
take a quote from me? I suppose I must say some- 
thing. If you want to print it, fine. Might go some- 
thing like this: 

“ ‘While in the past I have sometimes been dubious 
about Pulitzer choices I am pleased and flattered to 
be chosen in a year when Sandburg and Saroyan 
were chosen. It is good company.’ That’s the end of 
the quote. And it is one of the few times when tact 
and truth seem to be side by side.” 

Soon afterwards, the Steinbecks returned to Mexico, 
this time to Mexico City, where a corporation of 
which he was a director planned to produce “a little 
moving picture about the life of an Indian village” 
on a budget of $35,000: The Forgotten Village. Stein- 
beck was to write the screenplay. 

“But the life of an Indian village is tied up with the 
life of the Republic,” he reported to his uncle Joseph 
Hamilton, working for the WPA in Washington. 
“The Germans have absolutely outclassed the Allies 
in propaganda. If it continues, they will completely 
win Central and South America away from the 
United States.” 

News of the fall of France seemed to add urgency to 
the situation. Steinbeck decided to convey his alarm 
to the highest authority in the country. 


2.05 



To Franklin D. Roosevelt 


2017 Hillyer Place, N.W. 

Washington, D. C. 

June 24, 1940 

The President 
The White House 

My dear Mr. Roosevelt: 

For some time I have been making a little moving picture 
in Mexico. In this line I have covered a great deal of country 
and had conversations with many people of many factions. 

In the light of this experience and against a background of 
the international situation, I am forced to the conclusion that 
a crisis in the Western Hemisphere is imminent, apd is to be 
met only by an immediate, controlled, considered, and di- 
rected method and policy. 

It is probable that you have considered this situation in all 
its facets. However, if my observation can be of any use to 
you, I shall be very glad to speak with you for I am sure that 
this problem is one of the most important to be faced by the 
nation. 

Respectfully yours, 

John Steinbeck 


This letter was accompanied to the President’s desk 
by a memorandum of the same date, signed James 
Rowe, Jr.: 

“You may be interested in this letter from John 
Steinbeck who has just come to Washington from 
Mexico where he has been making a movie. He 
seems quite disturbed. He probably has no better 
information than any other sensitive and intelligent 
layman who has spent time in Mexico.” 

ao6 



A handwritten addendum; 

“Archie MacLeish says he thinks you would be in- 
terested in talking with him. He is the author of 
Grapes of Wrath. ” 

MacLeish, the poet, was Chief Librarian, Library of 
Congress. The next day, the following memoran- 
dum reached General Marvin (“Pa”) Watson, Secre- 
tary to the President; 

“Pa; I want to see John Steinbeck the author of 
Grapes of Wrath tomorrow for 20 minutes. F. D. R.” 

Steinbeck had outlined his ideas in his letter to his 
uncle; 

“I propose that a propaganda office be set up which, 
through radio and motion pictures, attempts to get 
this side of the world together. Its method would be 
to make for understanding rather than friction. I 
have a smoothly functioning movie crew and could 
gather several more quickly. I could also work with 
some Hollywood people, such as [Walter] Wanger, 
who would do a good job. I think a decent and honor- 
able job could be done, but I doubt if it can be done 
by the people who are directing it now.” 

Apparently the President took no action on the pro- 
posal, but it was Steinbeck’s first venture into the 
world of international statesmanship, which he 
would find increasingly fascinating. 


To Carlton A. Sheffield 


Los Gatos 
July 9, 1940 

Dear Book; 

It was good to get your long letter. I’ve been too raddled 
and confused to write letters for a long time. But with the 
decline of the pressures on me I’m feeling better and if it 
weren’t for the coming war, I could look forward to a good 
quiet life for a few years anyway. You know my nature 
and my old prospects so you must know what a terrible 


207 



experience this last two years has been. 

You ask about the ranch and whether it is an estate. If we 
were going to sell it, the description would surely sound like 
an estate. But I’ll try to give you some idea of it. At the Green- 
wood Road place we were finally surrounded with little 
houses and right under my work room window a house was 
built by a lady who was studying singing — the mi-mi-mi 
kind, so we finally went nuts. Carol’s father found this little 
ranch far up the mountain. It is forty-seven acres and has a 
big spring. It has forest and orchard and pasture and big 
trees. It is very old — ^was first taken up in 1847. The old ranch 
house was built in 1858 I think. So we came up, built a four 
room house for ourselves, much like the Greenwood road 
house. There had been an oil well on the place and we used 
the big timbers and boards for our house. Then we refinished 
the inside of the old ranch house for two guest rooms and a 
big winter playroom where one can have parties. So far in 
our ad we have “two houses — four bedrooms.” 

Then since Carol loves to swim I asked about swimming 
pools and I discovered a curious thing. The cost of swimming 
pools isn’t the pool but the machinery for filtering the water 
over and over since water is expensive. Using city water it 
costs fifty to sixty dollars to fill a pool once. But we had a four 
inch head of spring water. Now we built a long narrow swim- 
ming pool and turned our spring into it. If it were a city pool 
with the big pumps and filters, it would have cost between 
eight and ten thousand dollars. But a concrete tank with a 
spring running in cost $1,500. So we have a swimming pool 
to add to our ad. 

Then we have a Japanese boy who cooks, gardens, and 
looks after the place when we are away. And in the summer 
I have an Okie boy by the day to work around mainly because 
he needs the money so dreadfully. So there’s a staff of ser- 
vants. You see it really is an estate. But it is one of the most 
beautiful places I’ve ever seen. And I hope you’ll see it soon 
now that we have something of a normal life again. The 
telephone number by the way is not listed. I wish you would 
write it down. It is Los Gatos 293R1. The operators will not 
give it out. We had too much trouble with such. 

Sheffield had reported that he had tried, without 

success, to get a job on the San Francisco Chronicle. 

208 



I’m sorry about the Chronicle deal. Wish I had been there 
because I know the managing editor quite well. And I don’t 
think one gets jobs from below. My weight is decreasing 
daily and it will continue to do so. If you can think of any way 
to use what I have left, please tell me. Trouble is that I’ve 
refused all favors to papers but maybe I could help a little. 

Have you saved any money? I know you have. You always 
do. Your mystical luck will work and you’ll get another job. 
I would help as much as I could. And of course, you know that 
in the matter of money. I’m always available while I have 
any. 

I wish you would come down to the ranch. We could stand 
some talking now. It’s time for it. And I’ll work with you at 
anything you want to do. 

love 

John 


To Carlton A. Sheffield 


Los Gatos 
August 12, 1940 

Dear Carlton (if you wish): 

I’m taking flying lessons up at the Palo Alto Airport and I 
love it. There’s something so god damned remote and beauti- 
ful and detached about being way to hell and gone up on a 
little yellow leaf. It isn’t like the big transports at all because 
this little thing floats and bobs and yet is very steady and — 
there’s no sense of power at all but rather a sense of being 
alone in the best sense of the word, not loneliness at all but 
just an escape into something delightful. I think you used to 
get it after you had had a lot of guests and they all went home 
and the house was finally cleaned up and you could turn on 
the radio and cook your own kind of stew and read and look 
up and know god damned well that you were alone. And 
there’s something about seeing a cumulus cloud way off arid 
going over there to see what it is like. 

My first reason for getting a license was that here I am only 


209 



about a year and a half from forty and I wanted to learn to 
handle the controls while my reflexes were still malleable. I 
saw my father try to learn to drive a car when he was sixty 
five and he never could do it unconsciously. He had to think 
every time for the gear shift and he had to think about how 
to get out of a mess. Well, I wanted to get the controls into my 
unconscious before I got too old. And the moment I began 
going up I found something much more than that. Some very 
delicious thing with no name for it yet anyway, but it does 
seem to be some extension of aesthetics. 

There were callers just then so I had to leave this and come 
back to it. Yesterday afternoon a car came up and I went out 
to see who it was. When I got out to the porch there was a 
group, an elderly man, his wife beside him and three boys 
arranged on either side. They stood very stiffly and I began 
to get a little nervous and then suddenly the man bellowed, 
‘‘Do you know Jesus?’’ and launched into a sermon. It was five 
minutes before I could stop him. Gestures and all, and me 
standing in the door in nothing but a pair of swimming 
trunks. It was awful. I finally told them I did know Jesus and 
got them out, but they were prepared to save me even if it 
killed me. 

So long. I’ll hope to see you soon. 

Love 

jon 


To Franklin D. Roosevelt 


Los Gatos. 
August 13, 1940 

Dear Mr. Roosevelt: 

I assure you that if there were any alternative, I should not 
bother you with this letter. When you were kind enough to 
receive me I said I did not want a job. But after listening to 
the growing defeatism in the country, especially among busi- 
ness men, I find I have a job whether I want one or not. 


210 



When I spoke to you I said that the Germans were winning 
in propaganda matters through boldness and the use of new 
techniques. This has also been largely true in their military 
activities. At the time I had been thinking that our weapons 
and tactics would have to come not only from the military 
minds but from the laboratories. 

Perhaps you have heard of Dr. Melvyn Knisely, who has 
the chair of Anatomy at the University of Chicago. He is a 
remarkable scientist and an old friend of mine. Discussing 
with him the problem of the growing Nazi power and pos- 
sibilities for defense against it, he put forth an analysis and 
a psychological weapon which seem to me so simple and so 
effective, that I think it should be considered and very soon. 
I would take it to some one less busy than you if I knew one 
with imagination and resiliency enough to see its possibili- 
ties. 

What I wish to ask of you is this — ^Will you see Dr. Knisely 
and me in a week or ten days — see us privately and listen to 
this plan? Within half an hour you will know that we have 
an easily available weapon more devastating than many bat- 
tleships or you will not like it at all. Afterwards — if you agree 
— ^we will discuss it with any one you may designate on the 
National Defense Council. 

Please forgive this informality, but frankly, I don’t know 
anyone else in authority whom I can address informally. 

May I have a yes-no reaction to this letter at your conve- 
nience? 

Sincerely yours, 
John Steinbeck 


In the margin, the last two sentences are bracketed 
and a longhand note says, “Very nice!” Yet James 
Rowe, Jr., on August 20 sent an information copy to 
Marvin Watson, with the message: 

“I have sent the original to the President, because 
my guess is that he will have Steinbeck see someone 
else.” 


211 



The President, on September 3, in a memorandum 
for General Watson; 

“Will you arrange for Steinbeck and Dr. Knisely to 
come and see me on September 12th?” 

According to Mrs. Knisely: 

“The idea was to scatter good counterfeit German 
paper money over the land, in big amounts. The 
then Secretary of the Treasury vetoed the idea.” 

Steinbeck’s own comment on the reaction to the 
suggestion may be found in a later letter to Ar- 
chibald MacLeish: 

“A friend and I took a deadly little plan to Washing- 
ton and the President liked it but the money men 
didn’t. That is, Lothian and Morgenthau. It would 
have worked, too, and would work most particularly 
in Italy.” 


To Carlton A. Sheffield 


Los Gatos 
October 15, 1940 

Dear Dook: 

After a furious exchange of telegrams with Mexico City I 
guess I am going down on Friday as scheduled. 

I’m very glad that you like the ranch. It is so beautiful that 
often I am embarrassed to be living here. I think it would be 
a better thing to visit than to own. But I haven’t any sense of 
ownership about it anyway. If I think of owning, I consider 
it Carol’s ranch and feel that I really am just visiting it. 

The loneliness and discouragement are by no means a 
thing that has passed. In fact they seem to crowd in more 
than ever. Only now I can’t talk to anyone much about them 
or even admit having them because I now possess the things 
that the great majority of people think are the death of 
loneliness and discouragement. Only they aren’t. The last 


212 



time I saw Chaplin (this don’t repeat please but it is a part 
of the same thing) it was the night when the little lady [Pau- 
lette Goddard] was leaving him for good. And he said, “When 
I get this picture opened and all the formal things done, can 
I please go up to your ranch and kick all the servants out and 
just talk a little bit quietly about how lonely and sad I am? 
It will be self indulgence but I’d like to do it.” He is a good 
little man. And he knows so much better than I do the horrors 
of being a celebrity. 

It is so strange — remember how we used to think of Mexico 
as the golden something and we never really thought we 
would get there for all our talk. Certainly I never thought I 
would be going again and again and not particularly want- 
ing to. It’s like all the beautiful ladies. I remember wishing 
so much I could just associate with them. And now they bore 
me so completely, because they aren’t really beautiful at all. 
I know one or two who make me feel full and warm and 
excited and happy and they aren’t the really beautiful ones 
at all, I mean the accepted beautiful ones. 

Carol has a new hobby which she likes. She takes two big 
buckets and goes up into the pastures and fills them with dry 
cow manure and then she brings them down and puts them 
on the garden and then she makes another trip. It satisfies 
some profound anthropomorphic economy in her, and be- 
sides, she thinks it is a little funny. 

I have to go now. The carpenter who built this house fell 
off a roof a couple of days ago and broke his leg and he is 
down in a hospital and I want to go down to see him. 

See you when I get back. 

love 

John 


Steinbeck’s life was now about to take a new course. 
It happened through his two boyhood friends, the 
sons of Edith Wagner, Jack and Max. Jack had gone 
from Salinas to Hollywood in the early days of films 
as a gag man for Mack Sennett and had then stayed 
on in the developing industry as a scriptwriter. Max 
Wagner was an actor. Through them Steinbeck had 


213 



[Spencer] Tracy. He has technique and a name that can be 
counted in money.” I did not think his studio would let him 
do it. He has a great heart. I knew he would want to do it. And 
then they let him. Do you feel that I have let you down? 
Understand, that if I wanted to fight I could force the issue. 
I could make it so that you could do it. 

Let me tell you something— perhaps another cowardice, 
perhaps a wisdom. I don’t know. Recently I was at Del Monte 
and there came to my table people, our dear friends from 
Salinas. We drank and they said — “When you’re in Holly- 
wood do you ever see Wagner?” And I said, “Always.” And 
then there was a word, only one — and I felt my hair rise. You 
have never fought me so you don’t know. And I stood up and 
in the middle of it — I sat down again because of a grey sad- 
ness. I knew then they could not know you and my beating 
them to death would not let them know. And I sat down. 
Because I think that only I and Gwen maybe know who and 
what Max is, how beautiful, how valuable. And in the middle 
of anger it seemed to me that I would dirty your goodness by 
fighting and so I killed it by saying — “Max is my friend.” And 
they — the curs, who hate me and are afraid of me, were 
afraid to violate my friend in my presence. But they would 
violate both of us if neither of us were there. 

And the same thing with this picture. I could force it but 
that might be bad. I think you with your love could do a better 
thing than the other with his technique. 

You have given me a great deal, Max. I want to repay and 
I won’t know how, because you are beyond the reach of ordi- 
nary presents. You have given me loyalty I have almost given 
up hoping for in all the world. And you have given me friend- 
ship when everyone else was using me in some way. 

You could have been a great actor if you had wanted to — 
the feeling was there and from the feeling would have come 
ability. But you didn’t want to. I think you didn’t have the 
mean little ambition. You are proud of me now. I hope you 
know that I have no pride — that I know the series of acci- 
dents which gave me this silly name. 

I value you as I value very few people in the world. Know 
this. Max. When I called you hermano, I meant it in the most 
tremendous sense I know. 

Adios, Max a dios — ^los dos — espero. 


216 


John — qui es y 
sera tu hermano. 



Please tell Gwen that I am making a song for her and I have 
never made a song for anyone before. I love you both. And 
protect her a little, please. For she is dear to me. 


A week later he wrote Max again, worried because: 

“Gwen writes that you had another heart flurry. I 
hope you will take it easy a little while. I know you 
have a very deep and basic unhappiness and I sus- 
pect that even you don’t know what causes it. Mean- 
while I go on arguing for myself— for the three, in 
fact. Slow up a bit for us if not for yourself.” 

He hoped Max would come north to visit him. 

“I’d like to talk to you. Besides it would be good for 
you to see your own country. We’ll go to the Corral 
de Tierra and maybe to Fremont’s Peak and to the 
hole in the river. And of course the third who some- 
how has become an integral part even if she does 
seem to sneer at Monterey County.” 


To Webster F. Street 


Los Gatos 
[December 12, 1940] 
Thursday 

Dear Toby: 

Why is it, do you suppose, that we don’t get together any 
more? Of course, I know you are carrying some big secret 
in you that is bigger than you and that you’ve turned in- 
ward on your secret. And I suppose I’ve turned inward on 
something too. And I don’t think there’s any suspicion be- 
tween us — ^maybe it’s all just the grown-up conviction that 
there isn’t any possible communication so what’s the use 


217 



of trying any more? Maybe it’s that. Maybe the whole first 
part of living is frantic attempts to communicate and then 
all of a sudden you stop trying and that’s what makes the 
eyes change and the manner change. I talked to a girl re- 
cently whom I had known in Stanford and she told me 
she had been very much afraid of me because — she said, 
“I was afraid if I stopped listening to you for a moment, 
you’d flare into rage and knock me down.” I guess that’s 
the same thing. 

But we’ve become such strangers and no seeming way 
out of it. You’re surrounded with things and I am too. And 
sometimes I get so dreadfully homesick I can’t stand it 
and then realize that it’s not for any home I ever had. And 
the passionate youthful desire to communicate was the 
same kind of homesickness. It’s curious and it doesn’t get 
any better, only one learns not to talk about it. And if ev- 
eryone is that way, I wonder why they all learn not to talk 
about it. Their eyes get dull with disgust or pain or tired- 
ness. I haven’t crossed the hump I guess or I wouldn’t be 
writing this letter. 

But I sit upon this beautiful ranch in this comfortable 
chair with a perfect servant and a beautiful dog and I think 
I’m more homesick than ever. 

John 


On returning home after a holiday visit to Holly- 
wood with Carol: 


218 



To Max Wagner and Gwendolyn Conger 


[Los Gatos] 
December 26, 1940 
Thursday 

Dear Max and Gwen; 

I’m sending this to Max because Gwen will be moving. I 
thought I was just nervous the last day I saw you — Sunday. 
Carol was pretty sick — a hangover, she thought. Sunday 
night the phone rang and rang until I got hysterical and cut 
it oflp. Monday morning we both felt terrible but started out 
in the rain. God knows how we got here. I was half out of my 
head when we got here. Joe went for a doctor. I had 104° and 
Carol 103°. We were deep in the flu. So he sent a nurse up. I’d 
been off my nut for two days. Just out now and must stay in 
bed for several days. I don’t yet know how I drove that far in 
that condition. The doctor says it couldn’t be done. Whole 
thing seems like a nightmare. We had no Christmas of any 
kind and will have no New Year’s either. Jesus, I’m weak. But 
you’ve had it. You know what it’s like — ^just saps you. 

Wire from Herb [Herbert Kline, the film director] says he’ll 
be up with the film about the tenth, so I’ll see you about then. 
This is just a note. I’m all wrung out. 

John 


Three days later he wrote Max again, this time feel- 
ing that subterfuge was necessary: Gwendolyn Con- 
ger is referred to as “the secretary” and their rendez- 
vous as “club meetings.” 


219 



To Max Wagner 


[Los Gatos] 
[December 29, 1940] 

Dear Max: 

Since the secretary is moving and the mail is uncertain, I’ll 
make this report through you. It seems that I had more than 
the flu. I had pneumonia. They piled me full of one of the 
sulphanilamide compounds and licked it in two days. That’s 
wonderful stuff. Now I am sitting up and am pretty weak but 
feeling good. 

Will you tell the secretary that there will be a meeting 
under the old rules between the fifth and the tenth. I’ll wire 
you when I am flying down. And I won’t stay at the Garden 
of Allah. Too many people can find me there. I’ll take a small 
apartment somewhere. 

Will you also tell the secretary that the heat is on the mail 
a little bit and some other arrangements will have to be 
worked out. Fix that at the next meeting of the club. 

The film will be up soon now. 

And I think that’s all. I’ll let you know when I’m coming 
down. 

John 


To Pascal Covici 


Los Gatos 
January i [1941] 

Dear Pat: 

I’m very glad you are all recovered again and I hope no 
recurrences. Had you any idea what was wrong with you? 
Happy New Year anyway. 

We are still house ridden from the flu but should be able 


220 



to get out a little tomorrow if the sun shines. 

Next week I’ll go to Hollywood to do my final work on the 
Mexican film and then I’ll move to Pacific Grove to work on 
the Gulf book. I’ll come up here weekends but must be near 
the lab for the routine work. 

And speaking of the happy new year, I wonder if any year 
ever had less chance of being happy. It’s as though the whole 
race were indulging in a kind of species introversion — as 
though we looked inward on our neuroses. And the thing we 
see isn’t very pretty. Before the year is over, I think I will be 
looking back longingly on the Gulf of Lower California — that 
sea of mirages and timelessness. It is a very magical place. 

It is cold and clear here now — the leaves all fallen from the 
trees and only the frogs are very happy. Great cheering sec- 
tions of frogs singing all the time. The earth is moist and 
water is seeping out of the ground everywhere. So we go into 
this happy new year, knowing that our species has learned 
nothing, can, as a race, learn nothing — that the experience of 
ten thousand years has made no impression on the instincts 
of the million years that proceeded. Maybe you can find some 
vague theology that will give you hope. Not that I have lost 
any hope. All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up 
again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the 
evil thing wins — it never will — ^but that it doesn’t die. I don’t 
know why we should expect it to. It seems fairly obvious that 
two sides of a mirror are required before one has a mirror, 
that two forces are necessary in man before he is man. I 
asked Paul de Kruif once if he would like to cure all disease 
and he said yes. Then I suggested that the man he loved and 
wanted to cure was a product of all his filth and disease and 
meanness, his hunger and cruelty. Cure those and you would 
have not man but an entirely new species you wouldn’t 
recognize and probably wouldn’t like. 

There it is — It is interesting to watch the German effi- 
ciency, which, from the logic of the machine is efficient but 
which (I suspect) from the mechanics of the human species 
is suicidal. Certainly man thrives best (or has at least) in a 
state of semi-anarchy. Then he has been strong, inventive, 
reliant, moving. But cage him with rules, feed him and make 
him healthy and I think he will die as surely as a caged wolf 
dies. I should not be surprised to see a cared for, thought for, 
planned for nation disintegrate, while a ragged, hungry, lust- 
ful nation survived. Surely no great all-encompassing plan 


221 



has ever succeeded. And so I’ll look to see this German plan 
collapse because they do not know enough to plan for every- 
thing. 

I hope you will be well now and that before long you will 
be coming out our way. Heaven knows when I will get east 
again. There’s no reason to go. 

Love to Dorothy and to Paco and again my questionable 
happy new year. 

John 


The mood persisted, with the rain, and with “a 
strange relapse of Carol’s flu that keeps her weak 
and sick,” as he wrote Elizabeth Otis toward the end 
of January. 

“Wish she’d go to the desert for a couple of weeks but 
she doesn’t seem to want to. And this time I can’t 
take her. I simply have to get down to my book. 

“What a time of waiting this is! Everyone poised 
between two breaths. I seem to have a lot of writing 
energy now but it is so bound up in sadness and solar 
plexus longings that I don’t trust it. Sometime I’ll tell 
you — maybe. Greenness going out of life, I guess. 
Happens to everyone. But no relaxation of the rest- 
lessness. That continues — always has and I suppose 
always will. Seem to have been pacing back and 
forth always. And it doesn’t get any less.” 


222 



To Louis Paul 


[Eardley Street] 

Pacific Grove 

[1941] 

Monday 

Dear Louis; 

I hadn’t been to the ranch for some time and consequently 
the book you sent me was up there. I am very grateful for it 
and will get to it immediately. I read snatches of dialogue 
here and there and liked it very well. I’ll write you as soon 
as I finish it and meanwhile thank you very much. 

Am living down here now. Bought a little house to live in 
and I think I am going to sell the ranch. Inevitabilities 
caught up with me and I don’t much want to discuss them 
now nor until some time has given some perspective. Any- 
way I am working very hard on the gulf book and I think it 
might be something rather good. Work is about the most 
thing I do now. There’s a fine safety in it. 

I hope you are doing well. My agents say that book sales are 
terrible now. I have the little Mexican book of pictures [The 
Forgotten Village]. It is a tour de force and was Pat’s idea not 
mine. But he has sold it to the Book League and so far the 
critics don’t seem to know it is a phoney. It is only a phoney be- 
cause it isn’t a book at all but a trailer for a moving picture and 
the trailer costs two fifty which is enough for a real book and too 
much for a trailer. But if Pat is able to sell it I guess that makes 
it a book to every body but me. I still think it is a trailer. 

This house down here has a big garden and is very simple 
and pretty and about the right size for me. I was kidding 
myself thinking I was a gentleman farmer. I’m not. I’m half 
bum and half voluptuary and half workman and that makes 
me one and a half of something and that isn’t enough. Nerves 
pretty bad but otherwise all right except for the horrors all 
the time. Funny how easy it seems for other people. 

I’d like to see you if you ever get down this way. 

affectionately, 

John 


223 



To Max Wagner 


Los Gatos 
[February 2 , 1941] 
Saturday Night 

Dear Max: 

There are several things to report to the club. One — I got a 
very guarded phone call from Spence [Spencer Tracy] asking 
me to come down for the narrative. He, I think, is a little 
afraid of Herb’s direction. And I promised him I would. 
That’s for next weekend. I don’t know how I’ll come down, 
drive or fly. I’ll phone the secretary Monday from Monterey. 

When I drove up from Monterey yesterday Carol looked so 
low and bad and so weak from all this rain that I made 
arrangements to send her to Honolulu for six weeks. The sun 
will jack her up. Anyway, she sails next Thursday at noon. 
I’ll either fly south then or drive south. I don’t know which, 
yet. So I’ll be seeing you next weekend anyway and maybe a 
little bitty meeting might be held. 

How are you feeling now? I hope the Bi holds and builds 
some nerves. If you should get this letter Monday morning, 
would you tell the secretary I’ll phone about noon and will 
just leave a person to person in until the call is completed. I’ll 
call from the lab. 

I guess that’s all. 

John 


224 


To Elizabeth Otis 


[Pacific Grove] 
February 7, 1941 

Dear Elizabeth: 

Well, I am back from Hollywood and I hope for the last 
time. Put Carol on the boat and then word that Herb was in 
the hospital and that Tracy wasn’t to be let to do the commen- 
tary [for The Forgotten Village]. They wanted me down there, 
so I went. Got Burgess Meredith to do the commentary and 
he will do a good job too. 

I have a good deal of anger left, that’s all. The picture is 
good and should be sold. We got taken by M-G-M and I feel 
vengeful about it. Here’s the story as I finally traced it down. 
Tracy wanted to do this commentary very much. M-G-M 
wanted him to do a new version of Jekyll and Hyde which he 
didn’t want to do. So they promised him he could do the 
narration for me if he would do Jekyll. So he started it. Then 
they cut him off the narrative knowing he wouldn’t stop a 
picture already in production. I would like to teach them not 
to tread on me. Mannix [Edward Mannix of M-G-M] is the 
man I’m after. I intend to blast their production of Tortilla 
Flat with everything I have. Life has asked me to do a story 
on the true Tortilla Flat and I may take it just to slap M-G-M. 
Perhaps you do not think revenge is good but I would like to 
teach these bastards they can’t double-cross me with im- 
punity. 

To this end I wish you would read The Yearling again. Just 
a little boy named Jody has affection for a deer. Now I know 
there is no plagiarism on The Red Pony. But we are going to 
make The Red Pony, and two stories about a little boy in 
relation to animals is too much, particularly if in both cases 
the little boy’s name is Jody. Will you see if we can’t stop 
them from using the name and as much of the story as seems 
possible? If we don’t want money we might easily get a court 
order. And I want to plague them as much as I can. I have a 
dozen ways, these are just two. I’d like advice on the second. 

The next is funny. Donald Friede wanted to meet me and 

225 



Pat arranged it. He worked for two days on me to go into the 
Selznick agency — only for pictures, you understand — great- 
est respect for M & O but this has nothing to do with them. 
His offers were fantastic. He even told a girl I know he would 
see that she did all right if she would persuade me. I wouldn’t 
mention this to anyone else but I do think it is funny. And of 
course it got exactly nowhere. The only thing I want m the 
world not he nor anyone else can give me but I didn’t tell him 
that. 

I have one more request to make of you. Do you remember 
a long time ago I wrote a story called How Edith McGil- 
licuddy Met R.L.S.? 


This was the story that Steinbeck had written based 
on an experience of Max and Jack Wagner’s mother. 

Well, she has finally released it or rather got back her 
rights and it was never published. Remember I had to 
withdraw it? Well, she is very old and crippled now and 
quite poor. I am sending you the story. Do you think you 
can sell it? It’s my story and under my name. If you can 
sell it, maybe to a national magazine, get as much as you 
can for it and I will turn the money over to her. It must 
not be mentioned in print that she needs the money but 
you can tell any editor it is a true story. It would make 
her feel good and would ease the little time she has left if 
you could do this. 

Had a letter from Carol but in Los Angeles. No word from 
her in the Islands yet but she was having a wonderful time 
on the boat, already just about owned it. She will have a 
marvelous time of it. 

Good luck and all. And love to you, 

John 


Steinbeck’s story (“How Edith McGillicuddy Met 
R.L.S.”) was published in Harper's Magazine. As he 
wrote Max Wagner: 

226 



“Look, Max — today I am sending your mother a 
check for $225. It was all I could get for the little 
story. The national magazines wouldn’t have any- 
thing to do with it. God knows it isn’t much but she 
could maybe get some pretties with it.” 

The story was later reprinted in The Portable Stein- 
beck (revised edition, 1946). 

Carol stayed in Honolulu while he worked on the 
“Log” from Sea of Cortez. At the end of March, he 
reported: 

“Carol is getting back next Wednesday. She says she 
feels fine and healthy. I hope so. She hasn’t had an 
easy time of it in health as you know.” 


To Mavis McIntosh 


Pacific Grove 
April 16 [1941] 

Dear Mavis: 

This has been a hell of a time and I’m pretty shaky but at 
least I’ll try to give you a small idea of what happened. My 
nerves cracked to pieces and I told Carol the whole thing, told 
her how deeply involved I was and how little was left. She 
said she wanted what was left and was going to fight. So 
there we are. All in the open, all above board. I’m staying 
with Carol as I must. I don’t know what Gwen will do nor 
does she. Just as badly tied there as ever— worse if anything. 
Carol acting magnificently. I don’t know why in hell anybody 
would want to bother with me. Anyway, Carol won the out- 
side and G the inside and I don’t seem able to get put back 
together again. 

We’re selling the ranch. I bought a small house and garden 
in Pacific Grove but you’d better write me c/o the Lab for a 
while. Can’t even remember the name of the street. Probably 
will before I finish this. Guess I was pretty close to a complete 
crack up but probably have passed it now. We’re camping 

227 



down here really now. And I’m trying to pull myself together 
but pretty bruised as everyone is. Funny thing. All looks 
hopeless now but I suppose time will fix things. And at least 
no more whispering is necessary. 

This house is at 425 Eardley. I just went and looked. Sorry 
to have been all this trouble to you. Seem to have got about 
as low as one can go. Anyway that is our address now. I think 
things will be all right. Tell Elizabeth any of this you wish 
but don’t trouble her with it. The work is badly shot but I’m 
fighting with that too. Fun huh? 

Love to you all 
John 


Six years later Steinbeck wrote Bo Beskow in Swe- 
den about this period: 

“When I wrote the text of the Sea of Cortez, Gwen 
and I were hiding in the pine woods in a cabin and 
she would sleep late and I would get up and build a 
big fire and work until noon when she woke up and 
that would be the end of work for the day and we 
would go walking in the sand dunes and eat thou- 
sands of doughnuts and coffee. I worked very hard.” 


To Elizabeth Otis 


[Pacific Grove] 
May 19, 1941 
Monday 

Dear Elizabeth: 

I had your letter with the check in it a few days ago. Many 
thanks. I’ve been very raddled and tom out by the roots. 
Nightmared, etc. In many ways I have more of a sense of 
peace than I have ever had and am working hard but I get 

228 



the horrors pretty often. It’s an awful thing to me to be cruel. 
I don’t do it well. Meanwhile, as you know, I am having my 
assets gone over very carefully and will give Carol half and 
her interest in my contracts will probably make it more. 
Terrific income tax this year and heavier next will cut it 
down of course. 

I’m putting an awful burden on you. Came very close to 
cracking up and I guess did but not finally. Getting stronger 
now though. The work saves me a lot. If only Carol can be 
happy and whole, it will work. I don’t know. I had arrived at 
your advice independently, not to try to think but to let the 
work go on and time get in some licks. Seems to be the only 
thing. I don’t know that it is true but from her letters Carol 
seems more perturbed about people finding out about the 
separation than about the separation itself. Her terrific 
pride, I guess. But she is being very fine. I hope she is finding 
some content. 

We got off a lot of ms. to you which you probably have by 
now. It IS more than Pat asked for. A brutally peremptory 
letter from him to Ed this morning demanded it. 

Don’t expect any sense from me for a while or maybe 
never. If I can get a little in work that’s all I can expect. 

Meanwhile my love to all of you and don’t think too badly 
of me — or do if it is necessary. 

John 


It was no doubt in reference to this period that, 
much later, in “About Ed Ricketts” (prefatory sec- 
tion in Log from the Sea of Cortez) he wrote: 

“Once, when I had suffered an overwhelming emo- 
tional upset, I went to the laboratory to stay with 
him. I was dull and speechless with shock and pain. 
He used music on me like medicine. Late in the 
night when he should have been asleep, he played 
music for me on his great phonograph — even when 
I was asleep he played it, knowing that its soothing 
would get into my dark confusion.” 


229 



To Pascal Covici 


Pacific Grove 
June 19, 1941 

Dear Pat: 

Good letter from you this morning which I will answer at 
once. I’m glad you like that subtitle [A Leisurely Journal of 
Travel and Research]. It seems with every word to define 
some part of the book. 

I’m pretty sure the book will be good but that doesn’t mean 
it won’t flop completely. But I do think if it gets a slow start, 
it will gradually pick up because there is much more than 
just collection in it. Gradually it will be discovered that it is 
a whole new approach to thinking and only very gradually 
will the philosophic basis emerge. Scientific men, the good 
ones, will know what we are talking about. In fact some of 
them out here already do. It will only outrage the second-rate 
scientists who are ready to yell mysticism the moment any- 
thing gets dangerously near to careful thinking and a little 
bit out of their range. 

As for myself, and you say you are worrying about me — I 
would give up worrying. I am working as hard and as well 
as I can and I don’t dare do anything else. I’ve been pretty 
near to a number of edges and am not away from them yet 
by any means but I find safety in work and that is the only 
safety I do find. There is no ego in my work and consequently 
there is no danger for me in it. All of it is extension. If it once 
became introverted I wouldn’t last twenty-four hours. But I 
know that and thus I am able to take care of myself. When 
this work is done I will have finished a cycle of work that has 
been biting me for many years. Some one has to sit out these 
crises in the world and try to see them in perspective. Per- 
haps this book does that and perhaps it doesn’t. But it does 
say by implication that the world will go on and that this isn’t 
the first time. 

My personal life is a curious thing which I won’t permit 
myself to think about yet. I don’t want it to get important 
until I have finished this work. And don’t worry about my 


230 



cracking up. I won’t. You’ll get the book and you won’t be 
ashamed of it, I don’t think, although you will probably be 
pretty much scorned and excoriated for having printed it. 
Because it does attack some very sacred things, but not at all 
viciously. Rather with good humour which may be much 
more devastating. 

You say that you hope all will be well with me. That is a 
nice thing to hope although you know it won’t and can’t be. 
I haven’t a hell of a lot more time but I have some. I make 
messes every where but I guess everyone does only with some 
people they don’t show. So don’t worry about me. I can see 
myself pretty objectively and the picture is a little silly. 

love to you all 
John 


Among the reports on work and questions about 
business in letters of this period, there is always a 
paragraph that reflects his personal crisis. On June 
24, to Elizabeth Otis, he wrote: 

“Letters from Carol full of goodness and sweetness 
and they help a lot. I suspect that I am in such tur- 
moil that I won’t have anything to do with myself for 
a good long time. I don’t have to as long as there is 
work to do. And after that there will be more work 
to do.” 

And on July 4, to Pascal Covici, “still shaky” from 
having finished a first draft of Sea of Cortez: 

“Thanks for the thoughts. Certainly there is fulfill- 
ment here but the haunting is here too and I don’t 
know when I will lose that. Maybe never. There are 
great changes in me, some for the better and some, 
socially at least, for the worse. Word comes to me 
from Holl3rwood that I am drinking myself to death 
and indulging in all kinds of vices. As a matter of 
fact, I am drinking very very little and if that other 
is a vice then I’m vicious. And I’m doing more work 
than I ever did. I love the things people say. See if the 
manuscript sounds like drinking. 


231 



“This book is very carefully planned and designed, 
Pat, but I don’t think its plan will be immediately 
apparent. And again there are four levels of state- 
ment in it and I think very few will follow it down 
to the fourth. I even think it is a new kind of writing. 
I told you once that I found a great paltry in scien- 
tific thinking. Perhaps I haven’t done it but I’ve tried 
and it is there to be done.” 


To Elizabeth Otis 


[Pacific Grove] 
July i8, 1941 

Dear Elizabeth; 

We are working like beavers and should finish second draft 
about next Wednesday, that is of my part. Pat says he wants 
carefully corrected second draft rather than waiting three 
weeks for perfect third draft so we will send it to you as soon 
as it is corrected. I think it reads pretty well. 

I am of course holding my breath about C. [Carol] I wish I 
could get over the horrors about her. It comes back and back 
in a blind blackness that is awfully sharp. There is only one 
possibility for me, only one in all of them, and that is that she 
should meet someone whom she could fall in love with, 
someone who is good and strong and good to her. If that 
doesn’t happen the haunt is not going to be laid over. I know 
how much she needs help. God knows I’m no bargain. Proba- 
bly as difi&cult to live with as anyone in the world. But I 
haven’t been lately. 

Throughout all of this people say and think that if I had 
just done so and so and if Carol had just done so and so it 
would have been all right. But there was no trick that would 
make it whole. It was a basic disagreement that went even 
into our cells. You can’t get peace and unconscious under- 
standing out of some trick of behavior. Well, enough of this. 
I’ll try to work it out. I wonder why you think September is 
a critical month. I am making no plans except work plans 
because I think hell will pop and that before very long. But 
232 



I’m sure I can take it now whatever happens. And that is a 
good thing to know. I wish I could lose the pictures of abject 
horror though. I wish you could come out. 

The ranch is a worry. It just lies there and I can’t bring 
myself yet to go back to it. Haven’t had time of course but 
soon I must do it. 

I hope you have a good vacation. 

Love to you all. 

John 


The worries continued, obtruding themselves into 
all other preoccupations. At the end of September, 
he wrote Elizabeth Otis and Mavis McIntosh, appar- 
ently in response to a suggestion of the latter’s: 

“I really can’t see any reason for my staying and 
‘taking it,’ because I’ve taken it many times and no 
good comes of it. So we had more or less planned to 
go East and then it was taken out of my hands. I had 
a request which amounts to a command to go to 
Washington for a conference. I had made certain 
suggestions. Then we will go on to New York. I may 
write my play there. [This is the first mention of the 
play that became The Moon Is Down.] I suppose it is 
cowardly to run away but if anything could be ac- 
complished I would stay. I shall write Carol the 
truth— that I intended to go so that she would not be 
embarrassed and then that I had to go too. Galleys on 
the Sea started coming today and we’ll whip them 
out. What will hurt more than anything else is that 
all our friends like Gwen. My sisters and all the ac- 
quaintances. And I guess that’s all. I hope Carol can 
find some peace somewhere. She couldn’t with me.” 

Steinbeck and Gwendolyn Conger moved East at 
about this time, and his old friend and now his attor- 
ney, Webster Street, became for a while his most 
intimate correspondent. 


233 



To Webster F. Street 

IN MONTEKEY 


[do Burgess Meredith] 
[SufPern, New York] 
[October i8, 1941] 

Dear Toby: 

I should have written you before but I have been terribly 
rushed. I’ve been working on script and doing some work to 
try to get The Forgotten Village released and now at last I am 
up at Meredith’s place and I’m working on a play. It is very 
beautiful up here and I am working and resting at the same 
time. 

Thank you, Toby, for everything. I know I’m socially wrong 
— the wife deserter and cad — ^but I suddenly gave up. I tried 
for thirteen years, did everything I could and failed. Maybe 
a better man than I could succeed. I wasn’t good enough. But 
maybe I’m good enough for someone else whose standards 
aren’t quite so strict and who thinks in terms of giving as 
well as receiving. I don’t want her feeling hurt about any of 
this. 

Let her think anything of me she wants. She will want to 
think me bad or she can’t think herself good and that doesn’t 
matter to me. I’m neither bad nor good but some of both. I 
know how hard this is to handle, Toby. As to a divorce, that 
will have to come from her since she has committed no 
crime against the marriage and. I have. That must be her 
decision since she is the wronged one. Let her take anything 
out of the house that she wants. 

Love to you and 
many thanks 
John 


234 


To Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt 


c/o Burgess Meredith 
SufFern, New York 
[Late October 1941] 

Dear Mrs. Roosevelt; 

I want to thank you for your interest and help in the matter 
of the censorship of The Forgotten Village. I spoke with Mig- 
uel Covarrubias a day or so ago and he told me something of 
your help. I detest the application of the words “inhuman” 
and “indecent” to this film. It seemed to me that it was under- 
taken and carried out with considerable purity of motive. 
Anyway, I am exceedingly grateful for your advocacy. 

Very sincerely yours, 
John Steinbeck 


To Webster F. Street 


[Bedford Hotel] 

[New York] 

November 17, 1941 

Dear Toby: 

Your letters to Gwen and me came last night and we were 
very glad to get them. I had been away all day working. This 
funny small hotel and the little kitchenette have become a 
haven for us. Very few people know we are here. It is mostly 
thought that we live in the country and we do often enough 
to keep up the illusion. It’s rather a pleasant room. 

I finished my play and heard it read and the last act is very 
sour and has to be done over. I started and suddenly got one 
of those gray barriers that come from overwork. So I took two 
days off. I went to the meeting of the Board of Regents and 


235 



heard the arguments about The Forgotten Village and I 
think they will uphold the censorship, not because of the 
picture but because the censor board is an authoritative com- 
mittee and to interfere with its findings would be to weaken 
its prestige. 

I have seen [Herman] Shumlin one day and [Oscar] Berlin 
another day and I’m seeing another producer this afternoon. 
None of them have read the play yet. No one may want it. 
And I really don’t care very much. There’s no imminence. I 
have now four irons in the fire. The Play — which has no 
name yet, The Forgotten Village, The Red Pony, The Sea of 
Cortez, and one new one. All of them may crash for all I 
know. But I feel singularly free and a little wild. I don’t know 
why. Something in the air, something crazy. I might even go 
and buy a suit and a red dress for Gwen. 


Monday 

It was a little wild. I got two dresses for Gwen and ordered 
three suits. My clothes were falling off me and I needed 
them. Gwen wrote you Saturday. Did she tell you the Regents 
reversed the censor board and The Forgotten Village can 
now open? 

Very low today. Went out in the country yesterday but I 
didn’t drink much. One of my periodic lownesses. I don’t 
have them terribly often any more. And this one will go. 
Sense of frightful complication and confusion and fun. Well, 
I’ll finish my play this week anyway and it may be absolutely 
no good. But at least I am a little rested from it. 

Guess that’s all right nov«^. I have a sense that something 
terrible is about to happen but that is not very unusual for 
me. 

Love, 

John 


At this point, Gwendolyn Conger changed the spell- 
ing of her name to Gwyndolyn, and is henceforth 
referred to as Gwyn. 


236 



To Webster F. Street 


[New York] 
November 25, 1941 

Dear Toby: 

Two good letters from you and made us feel good to get 
them. We spent our Thanksgiving in a hotel room, Gwyn 
with a cold. At last the cold weather is here so the colds can 
go. I don’t know why that is so but it is. I deplore your dogless- 
ness in beach walking. You should have your own personal 
dog marked private or clipped private. 

The play? It’s about a little town invaded. It has no 
generalities, no ideals, no speeches, it’s just about the way the 
people of a little town would feel if it were invaded. It isn’t 
any country and there is no dialect and it’s about how the 
invaders feel about it too. It’s one of the first sensible things 
to be written about these things and I don’t know whether it 
is any good or not. 


He was writing broadcasts for what was to become 
the Office of War Information. 

I have to go to Washington to do some work in about a 
week. May have to move there which is terrible because of 
the housing shortage; but the work is to be done and I have 
to do it. So there’s no lack of work. In fact I have a wonderful 
idea for a book I’d like to work on. It’s wonderful how much 
work I can do. I’ll see that you get a copy of the book, the Sea 
I mean when it comes out. They haven’t even got manufac- 
tured books yet. 

[unsigned] 


237 



To Webster F. Street 


[New York] 
December 8, 1941 

Dear Toby: 

Last afternoon was the attack on Honolulu. Wasn’t that a 
quick one? We’ll take some pretty brutal losses for a while 
Tm afraid, but I think the attack, whatever it may have 
gained from a tactical point of view, was a failure in that it 
solidified the country. But we’ll lose lots of ships for a while. 
Tm going to work very soon now. Got an extension for pur- 
poses of this play. Its new title is The Moon Is Down and it 
should go into some kind of production this week. I just 
finished the play script last night. 

The reviews of The Sea of Cortez are extremely good and 
lively. Tomorrow I’ll send you one. I wonder whether I 
should send one to Carol? I sent her a carbon and she never 
mentioned it to me and she told Pat it wasn’t any good. What 
do you think? What would hurt her least — to get it or not to 
get? 

I wonder whether they picked up my [Japanese] gardener. 
I guess they will before very long. I suppose if they do you 
might just as well lock up the house. I wish you would sell 
the truck. There isn’t any reason to keep it that I can think 
of. Tm taking a job which will probably be for the duration 
and there is no need to hang on to that truck. I’ll keep my car 
though. Til try to put things in pretty good shape before I get 
into the work. I may have a day or a week or a month. But 
I’ll let you know and where I can be reached. Things move 
fast. 

Love, 

John 


238 


To Webster F. Street 


[Bedford Hotel] 
New York 
January 12 , 1942 

Dear Toby: 

Tm up a little earlier than usual so maybe I’ll be able to 
write you a letter without being interrupted. I’ve been work- 
ing on my play, testing lines and words and scenes and Lee 
Strasberg the director has been here every day. The trouble 
with Shumlin was very simple. He didn’t want the kind of 
play I had written and he did want another kind of play. 
Serlin does want this kind of play. Maybe it’s no good but it 
is this way. And I’m very tired of it. I should get it all done 
this week. 

I’m feeling low this morning. I’d like to be west and God 
knows when that will be — ^maybe not until the war is over. I 
guess Carol hates me very much and I don’t like to be hated. 
I’d like to go to that little house and settle for a while. No 
soap. I guess you’d better have the telephone cut off. 

Gwyn is well. This suitcase life is not very satisfactory to 
her. She wants some place to light but there is none in sight. 
She doesn’t complain at all though. And when I do get called 
I don’t know where it will be — maybe Washington, maybe 
not. The new little book [ The Moon Is Down, novel] will be out 
the end of Feb or early in March. Viking Press thinks it will 
sell a lot of them. The Sea is moving very slowly and it will 
never make any money. I’m awfully glad we did it and that 
way. 

It’s nice in New York now— a light snow on the tops of 
buildings and the air is crisp and wonderful to walk in. I ve 
had too much on my mind to let go and just walk in it. Maybe 
I should. 

Anyway the physical clearness of my own personal life 
should come out in or within two weeks. Then I’ll let you 
know. Meanwhile Gwynnie sits on a bag of dynamite, but she 
is good about it. I think she wants security more than anyone 
I ever knew. Carol thought she did and didn’t. But Gwyn who 


239 



has never had any has really a gift for it — an inner security 
which could make an outer one if given half a chance. And 
so far she hasn’t had that chance. If we could even take a 
house or an apartment in Washington that’s all she wants. 
She wants to cook. She doesn’t talk about any of these things. 
Do you know that the little time in the Grove is the only time 
since she was a little girl that she ever had a home? And 
oddly enough it is the only time I ever had one either. 

You know it’s a funny thing— I’ve written myself out of my 
lowness in this letter. I feel better and clearer. I can see this 
director today without dreading it. The sun has come out on 
the snowy roofs and there’s a barrel organ playing in the 
street. Maybe there’s some gaiety in the world. That need 
have nothing to do with comfort. But I’m more patient than 
when I started writing this letter. 

After the war is done, if I can, I know what I want if my 
domestic difficulties and my finances will permit it. I want 
about ten acres near the ocean and near Monterey and I want 
a shabby comfortable house and room for animals, maybe a 
horse, and some dogs and I want some babies. Maybe I can’t 
ever get that but it’s what I want. And I’m pretty sure it’s 
what G^vyn wants too. Then maybe I want a small boat. I 
suppose there isn’t a chance in the world of having these. 
Something will come up but I’m going to try and get them 
just as soon as the war is over. And I may not even wait for 
that to start getting the babies. I know now that Gwyn can 
run a hospitable house where I am welcome. That’s the as- 
tonishing thing. I’ve never been welcome. That’s why our 
houses were so doleful. There was no hospitality in them. It 
is curious that I sit here and plan what is probably an impos- 
sible future. My earning years in terms of money are nearly 
over. Not that I won’t work and probably do good work. But 
the years of a writer financially are very few. And there will 
be no chance of picking up another reserve. But that is all 
right too. We’ll get along. There’s love in the house even here. 

I guess that’s all. I’ve run off at the mouth a good deal. A 
kind of babbling. But seems to have been necessary. 

Love 

John 


240 


Webster Street was Steinbeck’s only correspondent 
through the winter of 1942. Because of problems of 
his own, he had moved into Steinbeck’s house. 

“1 can’t tell you how glad 1 am that you are in the 
house with fires going and somebody enjoying it,” 
Steinbeck wrote him. “It is a pleasant little house 
and we miss it, but we miss the people out there even 
more, among whom you are paramount. You’ll find 
you get a lot of thinking done in that house.” 

In almost every letter he writes something about the 
house. 

“You will look after the rabbits, won’t you? Gwynnie 
worries that they will be hurt or hungry.” 

And: 

“I don’t imagine we will get out there to see the nice 
garden before it is all weed grown again. Would you 
get my guns out of the study and oil them a little if 
they are getting rusty? I wish we could be out there 
with you sitting beside the fire.” 

He reverts to the immediate past — the horrors, as he 
calls them. 

“1 still get them all the time. Kind of something that 
goes on in the back of my mind — what could I have 
done to save it? I think I still have the desire to be 
good. And hurting people isn’t good and I’ve hurt C. 
— consequently I’m not good. This apart from the 
fact that we were destroying each other.” 

He champs with impatience at the delays of 
bureaucracy. 

“Washington is still letting me dangle here and I’m 
getting pretty disgusted about it. They won’t let me 
go away. I’m going to the country tomorrow because 
I am so fed up with the city I am nearly nuts. I know 
if I get fifty miles away I’ll be called back.” 

And: 

“Fm finding curious things about gov’t. My outfit 
does not assign me and will not release me for 
other work. Some very pleasant jobs are offered 
me and I can’t take them. Fm getting angry about 
it. This has been a year in which I’ve been held 


241 



in suspension, but I’ve got a lot of work done in 
spite of it.” 


He reports with satisfaction and awe about the suc- 
cess of The Moon Is Down in book form. 

“The new book is doing frighteningly well. Prepub- 
lication it is outselling Grapes two to one. In trade 
edition there will be a pre-publication sale of 85,000 
and Book of the Month Club is ordering 200,000. It is 
kind of crazy. The hysteria of the bookshops in or- 
dering is very wild. The play is being cast now and 
should go into rehearsal about the 15th of February 
and will open about a month later.” 

And through it all, he is happy. 

“My emotional life has been good. Gwyn works at a 
relationship and this is a new and lovely thing to me. 
She likes being a woman and likes being in love. 
This is a new experience to me.” 

“I seem to take energy from a good relationship with 
Gwyn that makes me want to work all the time.” 

Years later, Steinbeck’s old friend, the novelist John 
O’Hara, said of Gwyn to Elaine Steinbeck: “She had 
the most beautiful skin I ever saw on a woman.” 


To Webster F. Street 


[Bedford Hotel] 
[New York] 
February 14, 1942 

Dear Toby: 

I don’t want to chisel in any way from Carol. I want to give 
her everything I can. I don’t think she will be single long. She 
will have a lump of money and she is very pretty. I hope to 
goodness she is happy. Ed writes that she seems to be having 
a very good time with the Army set. I hope so. The complaint 
is just. I was cruel to her physically and mentally and 

242 



she was cruel to me the same way and neither of us could 
help it. 

I am sad at the passage of a good big slice of my life. It 
could have been ecstatic. That was the age for it. But I still 
have energy and I am still capable of loving a woman very 
much. So It isn’t really too late for either of us. 

It’s the first divorce our family ever had and it makes me 
sad. 

[unsigned] 


They took a house across the river from New York 
City at Sneden’s Landing. 


To Webster F. Street 


Palisades, Rockland County 
New York 
[April 8, 1942] 

Tuesday 

Dear Toby: 

The show opens tonight in New York and there is a very 
scared cast. They were cocky in Baltimore and they took a 
beating and now they are properly humble and I think will 
be much better for it. Gwyn and I are not going. I can’t seem 
to get very excited but a curious kind of wave of excitement 
is going through theatrical New York. I never saw anything 
like it. I think the publicity has been so great that the critics 
will crack down on the play. 

So far my work for the government is working out nicely. 
I go on every night and in the daytime. 

Not I, of course. I send the stuff in. I had my voice tested 
the other day and it was just as I knew it would be. My 


243 



enunciation is so bad and the boom in my voice is so bad that 
I can’t be understood. I am glad too because now they will 
never ask me again. 

Gwyn has gone down the river to get a fresh shad with roe 
for dinner. Almost my favorite fish in the world and baked 
it is perfectly wonderful. Gwyn is not going to catch this fish 
but to buy it fresh caught at the river side. 

It is a fine warm day today and the doors are all open and 
certain baby flies are wandering around helplessly with wet 
wings and I am so friendly feeling that I do not even club 
them down and I really should do. I’ll let their wings get dry 
and then I will miss them. 

We are going to sit and have stingers tonight and when the 
show is over they will call from New York and tell us how it 
went and then at three o’clock the first reviews will come out 
and they said they would phone those and I’m not at all sure 
I want to hear anything at three o’clock. But I can’t hurt 
feelings. And I will answer the phone which fortunately is 
beside the bed. But I bet there is not much listen about me. 

Well, I’ll finish this later. 

Dear Toby: 

And now it is two days later. I’m sending you the reviews 
and as you will see they are almost uniformly bad. Further- 
more, they are almost uniformly right. They don’t really 
know what bothered them about the play, but I do. It was 
dull. For some reason, probably because of my writing, it 
didn’t come over the footlights. In spite of that it will proba- 
bly run for several months. It is too bad it isn’t better. I don’t 
know why the words don’t come through. The controversy 
that has started as to whether we should not hate blindly is 
all to the good and is doing no harm. What does the harm is 
that it is not a dramatically interesting play. 

Write soon. 

John 


244 


Toward the end of the month he wrote to Street: 

“Oddly, the play goes on to crowded houses in spite 
of the critics. The critics have all stopped being crit- 
ics and have turned propagandists. They are judg- 
ing what should be told the people, what is good for 
the people to know. And the people are doing a better 
job than the critics. They’re taking the war fine and 
working like hell to get it over. They don’t seem to 
need hatred. It’s a mechanical war and this is a 
pretty good mechanical people. I’ve seen some of the 
plants now and the men are doing a hell of a job.” 

Then, turning to his and Toby’s similar personal 
problems: 

“I know how you feel and what you go through. Be- 
cause I’m not done with it by any means. The pain 
comes from breaking the pattern and from nothing 
else. You are missing the place you hated to go to but 
it was a place to go to. Don’t let your mind trick you 
too much. Recapture the memory of the thing that 
drove you out. That disappears quicker than the 
other and makes for the unbalance.” 

In “About Ed Ricketts,” Steinbeck reported receiv- 
ing at the laboratory various surveys written by 
Japanese scientists before Pearl Harbor. 

“Here under our hands were detailed studies of the 
physical make-up of one of the least-known areas of 
the world and one which was in the hands of our 
enemy. Here was all the information needed if we 
were to make beach landings. We drafted a letter to 
the Navy Department in Washington. Six weeks 
later we received a form letter thanking us for our 
patriotism. I seem to remember that the letter was 
mimeographed. Ed was philosophical about it, but I 
got mad. I wrote to the Secretary of the Navy.” 


345 



To The Honorable Frank Knox 

SECRETARY OF THE NAVY 


Palisades 
May 5, 1942 

Dear Mr. Secretary: 

I believe that the best way to get information to its proper 
place is to send it to the chief. I hope you will give the follow- 
ing to the officer of naval intelligence most able to under- 
stand and make use of it. 

It is not generally known that the most complete topo- 
graphical as well as faunal information about any given 
area is found in the zoological and ecological reports of 
scientists investigating the region. 

For a number of years, my partner Edward F. Ricketts and 
I have been charting the marine animals of the coast of 
North America and through this work have looked into the 
publications from other parts of the world, including the 
Japanese Mandated Islands. 

No Occidentals have been allowed to land in the Mandated 
Islands since they were taken under Japanese control. 

The only publications or information to come from these 
Islands have been the reports of Japanese biologists, who are 
fine research men and truly pure members of the interna- 
tional scientific fraternity. 

The reports are found to contain maps, soundings, reefs, 
harbors, buoys, lights and photographs of these areas. The 
information, if not already in the possession of Naval Intelli- 
gence, could be very valuable. 

Yours truly, 
John Steinbeck 


246 



“Nothing happened for two months,” Steinbeck re- 
called in “About Ed Ricketts.” “I was away when it 
did happen. One afternoon a tight-lipped man in 
civilian clothes came into the laboratory and iden- 
tified himself as a lieutenant commander of Naval 
Intelligence.” 

The officer asked if Ricketts or Steinbeck spoke 
Japanese. 

‘No — why do you ask?’ 

‘Then what is this information you claim to have 
about the Pacific Islands?’ 

“Only then did Ed understand him. ‘But they’re in 
English — the papers are all in English! The Japa- 
nese zoologists wrote them in English — sometimes 
quaint English but English.’ 

“That word tore it. The lieutenant commander 
looked grim. ‘Quaint!’ he said. ‘You will hear from 
us.’ But we never did. And I have always wondered 
whether they had the information or got it. I won- 
dered whether some of the soldiers whose landing 
craft grounded a quarter of a mile from the beach 
and who had to wade ashore under fire had the feel- 
ing that bottom and tidal range either were not 
known or ignored.” 


To Webster F. Street 


Palisades 
July 23, 1942 

Dear Toby: 

My military status is this. I am appointed Special Consul- 
tant to the Secretary of War and assigned to Headquarters of 
the Army Air Force. The commanding general of the Air 
Force is writing the Draft Board requesting that I do not be 
called. I have said that if I were called I would not take a 
deferment. When this work is done in about three months I 
will be inducted in the army in the G3 section of the Air 
Force. I am also a foreign news editor of the Office of War 
Information. In the early fall probably in September I have 

247 



to go west to write and oversee a moving picture for the Air 
Force in Hollywood and after that I take up the Gg work I 
mentioned. Maybe I am wrong about the number, maybe I 
mean Ga. Intelligence section is the one I mean. I can’t keep 
track of numbers. I am to have a new subsection that has just 
been authorized. 

This coast is completely changed by the gasoline rationing 
and the dimout. I was in Times Square last night and it is 
kind of ghostly. Now there are no big signs and the crowds 
of people seem to be quiet and shadowlike. The streets are 
very dimly lighted and the traffic signals are blacked out 
except for thin slits very hard to see. You don’t go very fast. 
You are only allowed to turn on your traffic or rather your 
parking lights. I don’t go into town very often. 

I think that is all now. 

Love, 

John 


John Steinbeck and Gwyndolyn Conger went to Cali- 
fornia in September, as scheduled. 


The picture for the Air Force, published in book 
form the same year, was Bombs Away: The Story of 
a Bomber Team. The picture idea about the Japa- 
nese invasion was rejected by O.W.I. as not in the 
public interest. To Elizabeth Otis and Annie Laurie 
Williams ten days later: 


“We have a very nice house, rented for three 
months. Gwyn is well. She says we have been living 
this way for over a year and we can take it some 
more. She is a very wonderful girl, doing what 
grousing she has to over little tiny things and then 
when something important comes up, doing none at 


248 



To Annie Laurie Williams 


[Van Nuys, California] 
January 8 [1943] 

Dear Annie Laurie: 

Today Kenneth MacGowan of 20th Century asked me to 
come out and talk to him. It seems that the Maritime Com- 
mission has asked Hitchcock to do a picture about the men 
of the merchant marine and he wants me to write the story. 
[This led to Lifeboat] I told them I would like to try it on these 
terms — that I work a week on it and if I didn’t like what I was 
doing and it didn’t seem right for me I would destroy what 
I had and they could if they wanted pay me for a week’s work. 
If on the other hand I liked what I did and they liked it, then 
I would finish it and they could deal with you about what 
they would pay for the story, always understanding that it 
would be plenty. They accepted that very gladly. I have a 
number of ideas for such a story. If it should seem to be good 
then maybe Hitchcock will go east with me and we will talk 
to some of the seamen who have been torpedoed. I shall write 
it as a novelette which I will be free to publish if I want to. 
Of course if the thing on starting doesn’t move in my mind 
and hands I’ll simply toss the whole thing out and forget it 
and Twentieth Century understands that perfectly. They 
also understand that I may be called to service at any time. 
AnyTvay it is exciting and I will enjoy the trying. They are 
very nice people to deal with as you know. 

Love to you all and we’ll see you soon. 

john 


Carol Steinbeck’s divorce was about to be granted. 



To Webster F. Street 


[New York] 
March 15, 1943 

Dear Toby: 

We are going to New Orleans to be married. Gwyn is going 
next week and I’ll go down about the 27th if I can get a plane. 

The next is confidential. I’m so tired of government that 
I’m going to try something else. Am making passes at being 
accredited a correspondent from the Herald-Tribune or Col- 
liers or A.P. or something and if it works I will go overseas 
soon after the ist of April. I know what I want to do and see 
and I’ll get somebody to send me. It may not work but neither 
does the army nor the gov’t. I run up against nothing but 
jealousies, ambitions and red tape in Washington. I want a 
job with a big reactionary paper like the Herald-Tribune 
because I think I could get places that way I couldn’t other- 
wise. 

From what I have seen so far, if I go into the army I would 
prefer to be a private. The rest is very like the fraternity 
system at Stanford. I have not been notified of rejection by 
the way. 

I think a big push is starting soon and I would like to see 
it. That is why I am trying to go as war correspondent. But 
maybe no one will want me. I only started on this line a day 
ago. 

Love, 

John 


Four days later Toby informed Steinbeck that the 
divorce had been granted. 

“I can’t say there was any joy in that final decree,” 
Steinbeck wrote him. “In fact, it snapped me back 
into all the bad times of the last years. The final 

250 



failure of an association. But the association had no 
chance of succeeding from the very first. I can see 
that now and can recall step by step how two people 
hurt each other for eleven years. That’s done. 

“My corresponding moves along and I should be 
able to work it out early next week. I think I’d rather 
go over in a troop ship than fly over. According to the 
Swedish radio. Moon, which opened two nights ago 
in Stockholm, is a smash hit. Willie [the dog] is going 
up to the country around Nyack for the week we will 
be away. He is looking forward to it.” 

And, finally, the marriage on March 29, in the court- 
yard of Lyle Saxon’s house in the French Quarter of 
New Orleans. 

“We had a good wedding and a good time and every- 
body was kind to us and now we are a little bit tired 
out. It was quite a party.” 

To Nunnally Johnson about the same time: 

“It was a good and noisy wedding. I wish you could 
have been there. It would have wakened all of your 
latent romance. People cried and laughed and 
shouted and got drunk. Oh! It was a fine wedding.” 


To Webster F. Street 


TELEGRAM 


NEW YORK 
APRIL 5 [1943] 

WAR CORRESPONDENT HERALD TRIBUNE ACCREDITED WAR DEPART- 
MENT EUROPEAN THEATER DEPARTURE MIDDLE APRIL 

JOHN 


251 




^ CzAAAJ4JUt>A^ 


“..FllialfwSy 
believe tljat I 
dr&amed you. ” 




War correspondent in European Theater for the New 
York HeraM Tribune. First edition of The Portable 
Steinbeck published. 



Lifeboat (film) released. Birth of son Thom. Moved 
back to California. 


Cannery Row published. The Red Pony published in 
four parts. A Medal for Benny (film) r^eased. 
Returned to New York. 



Son John bom. Awarded the King Haakon Liberty 
Cross (Norway) for The Moon Is Down. 


7 


The Wayward Bus published; Book-of-the-Month Club 
selection. The Pearl, story published, film released. 
Correspondent in Russia with photographer Robert 
Capa for file New York Herald Tribune, 


A Russian Journal published. Separated from 
Gwyndolyn Steinbeck. Went Imck to California. 


O Webster F. Street 


[New York] 
April 9, 1943 

Dear Toby: 

I guess I am not going to be allowed to do anything the easy 
way. Your wire last night indicates that board 119 is doing its 
usual shit. 

If I seem a little bitter it is because I have never had any 
trouble with generals, with secretaries of departments, but a 
year and a half has been made horrible by little men with 
temporary authority who, armed with envy, have pushed me 
around, lieutenants and such who could put in secret reports 
they thought I would never see and so forth. I just get a little 
frantic at the mess. At my age, my only chance of getting 
near combat area is in the capacity I am working on, and 
now if I am cut off by these sons of bitches, shit. I get so god 
damned disgusted with stupidity. 

John 


By June, the situation was resolved. Leaving Gwyn- 
dolyn Steinbeck in the apartment they had taken in 
New York, he arrived in London as a war corre- 
spondent. As he wrote Toby: 

“I’m putting about all the stuff I see into the daily 
work and consequently do not try to write it in let- 
ters.” 



To Gwyn, he wrote; 


“I have stopped writing to anyone at all except you. 
I write to you nearly every day and I wonder 
whether you get my letters.” 

These letters form a sort of journal, and excerpts are 
presented here. 


To Gwyndolyn Steinbeck 


London 
July 4 [1943] 

My darling; 

This is Sunday the Fourth and the streets are full of Ameri- 
can homesickness. I have it too. I walked for hours last night 
and talked to so many of the soldiers. They are angry about 
the messes in Washington and they are homesick. The rea- 
son I have put the date at the top is that I finally have got a 
calendar. Bob Vining of the navy gave it to me and it is tacked 
to the wall and I can find out any time I want what the date 
is, provided of course that I know the day of the week. 

I’ve really got a low time now. Liquor is so expensive and 
so bad that I do not fall back on it. I guess I’ve just got what 
the troops have. It is quite a hot day and hasn’t rained in two 
weeks or more. Already the grass is getting brown. But it 
looks as though there might be some rain soon. It is getting 
muggy. This isn’t a day to work but I must. I think I’ll do a 
piece today about homesickness in London. That’s what is 
happening here. 

I love you and I am homesick too. 


[July 1943] 

Darling, you want to know what I want of you. Many things 
of course but chiefly these. I want you to keep this thing we 
have inviolate and waiting — ^the person who is neither I nor 

256 



you but us. It’s a hard thing this separation but it is one of the 
millions of separations at home and many more millions 
here. It is one hunger in a great starvation but because it is 
ours it overshadows all the rest, if we let it. But keep waiting 
and don’t let it be hurt by anything because it is the one really 
precious thing we have. Later we may have others but so far 
it is a single unit— and you have the keeping of it for a little 
while. You say I am busy, as though that wiped out my end, 
but it doesn’t. You can be just as homesick and lost when you 
are busy. I love you beyond words, beyond containing. 
Remember that always when the distance seems so great 
and the time so long. It will not be so long, my dear. 


July 8 [1943] 

Dear Gwyndolyn: 

The mails are terrible. Who knows, maybe a lot of letters 
will come over today. 

It is a kind of a grey day with big clouds and the city against 
them is very beautiful. I have become such an assiduous 
worker that you wouldn’t know me. The hulk that sat in the 
green chair day in and day out is replaced with a medium 
young executive, well dressed, courteous, clean, on his toes — 
business as usual and the chin up and nose on the grind 
stone. This transformation is happily not permanent. This 
discipline is good but I can’t think what for. It is nothing I am 
sure that the home double bed won’t cure. 

The grey day is turned to rain now, a very pleasant and 
necessary rain. 

love to baby 
john 

July 12 [1943] 

My darling. 

I wish I could go with this letter. To see you and to hold you 
would be so good. I know it will seem a very short time when 
it is over but now it seems interminable like an illness. I have 
small magic that I practice. When I go to bed, I build up what 
you look like and how you speak and some times I can almost 
feel you curling around my back and your breath on my 
neck. And sometimes it is so real that I am shocked that it 
isn’t so. 


257 



It is raining today and coming on to the time when it will 
rain nearly all the time. And this morning which is Monday 
it fills me with gloom. I’m writing the gloom out on you and 
am loving it. This letter seems much closer than the others. 

I love you very deeply and completely — that goes through 
everything and in everything. Every day I hope I will hear 
from you and at night I haven’t. Maybe today. Some of the 
mail must come through. Perhaps they have held it up, need- 
ing the space. I don’t know. 

Good bye my darling wife. Keep writing. 

I love you. 


Somewhere in North Africa 
August 13 [1943] 

Darling: 

I haven’t written for several days because I’ve been on the 
move. It seems silly to head this one “Somewhere in Africa,” 
like saying just somewhere. Anyway this is a large city on the 
Mediterranean which I can’t even spell [probably Algiers]. 
I’ve felt guilty about you taking all the hot weather this year 
but now you have your revenge. It was 140° when I landed — 
terrible searing heat. Up here on the sea it is only about 115° 
and the nights are bearable. The call came suddenly and 
surprised even me for I had been refused before. So I hopped 
it while I could. Right now I have the G. I. skitters which 
come to everyone and is painful but it will be gone tomorrow. 
Coming from cool England the heat can bowl you over. 

Here I made my first error. Instead of applying for a billet 
from the army and getting, after hours, a cot with sixteen 
other men, I went up to the desk and in some of the sourest 
high school French asked for a room and got it. The army 
doesn’t know how it happened. No one ever thought to try 
that method. I have a bath and a toilette and I am not even 
a general. The room itself is torn up quite a bit. Blast from 
bombing has loosened the wall paper. No windows nor mir- 
rors of course. The big window is walled up with only two 
small holes, left open at the top. There are two small beds 
covered, believe it or not, with Mexican serapes. 

I’m lying down to write this. It is the only way to keep from 
dripping on it. I shan’t be here very long before I move on. 
Just please keep writing to London and I’ll be back there 
probably in three weeks. This is a very crucial time. But the 

258 



nearer you get to a battle front, the less news you hear. You 
probably know much more than I do. I’m not even going out 
to dinner tonight. I’ll sit here and write to you and rest my 
stomach. Hadn’t had any fruit since I left New York and of 
course here it is wonderful. 

It’s coming on to get dark and it will cool off then some. 
Down m the desert it was full moon and Arabs howl at the 
moon — a high howl that goes on for hours and sounds a little 
like coyotes. If you can imagine sitting in a garden and hear- 
ing American swing played on a phonograph over the back- 
ground of howling Arabs, you have something. 

Damned if those senators didn’t arrive here about the 
same time as I. By now they are fighting among themselves 
and they are reducing American prestige to an all time low 
which is very, very low. We must be inspired to have made 
so many mistakes. Some of the reporters over here are vi- 
ciously resentful of me and some are very kind. But every 
once in a while one of them goes out of his way to tell me how 
much my stuff stinks. I think they are probably right. I get 
very tired of it. 


August 19 [1943] 

My darling: 

It is almost impossible to keep clean here. The water is cold 
and dribbles and the soap doesn’t seem to take hold. I think 
I am getting dirtier and dirtier but it isn’t quite so noticeable 
since my complexion is getting darker and darker every day. 

I have with me a camera man and an enlisted man and we 
have been jogging about the country seeing a great deal and 
taking some pictures. Yesterday I traveled through country 
that looked just like that stretch between Moss Landing and 
Monterey, with sand dunes and then the sea. The sea was the 
same blue as in Monterey and it made me very terribly 
homesick. And I wondered what has happened to the little 
house and how every one is. 

I am still looking for Bill Dekker [Steinbeck’s brother-in- 
law, married to his younger sister Mary] and still haven’t 
found him. But I will in time. 

I wonder what this being apart has done for us. To you, for 
instance, has it made you think our thing was good or do you 
suspect it? It has made me think it is exceptionally good and 
desirable. You said in one letter that you would probably 


259 



have changed your whole way of life. I hope not so radically 
that we cannot get back to the good thing it seemed to me. 
The good nights with the fire going. This winter I must have 
the little fairy stove connected so that when we go to bed the 
coals can be glowing. I wonder whether you found a maid at 
all. I think you will agree with me from now on that we need 
one. I hate to wash dishes and always will. I did too damned 
much of it when I was a kid. And I don’t like to sweep and 
all stufp like that. But we will try to get someone who comes 
in for the day rather than an in-sleeper, that is of course as 
long as we have an apartment. 

Goodbye my darling. I would give something very large to 
be able to hear from you, but I don’t know any way to accom- 
plish it. 

Keep good and patient for just a little while now. 


August 24 [1943] 

Darling: 

I hope you will answer my cable because I am pretty wor- 
ried about you. Six weeks it is now since I have heard. 

My dear, I am very tired of being without you, very tired 
indeed. We shan’t do this again but it was necessary this 
once. I get sudden fits of jealousy too that are baseless and 
useless but seem to come on without warning. 

I think the heat is making me a little dingy. It seems to me 
that I cannot remember much of anything. The series of bad 
dreams continues. But I think everyone is having them, at 
least dreams that go on and on. I’m getting to the point where 
I half way believe that I dreamed you. 


August 25 (1943] 

Dear: 

Last night I went with the naval officers to a monastery in 
the country and in a huge dark church, the brothers were at 
evening prayer singing Gregorian music with only two little 
candles burning in the great place. I stood in the choir loft 
and looked down on this thing and it was very wonderful, the 
sound bellied up with great fullness. Afterwards we talked to 
the brothers and they are all nationalities. One was from 
Massachusetts and another a German and a third a Hol- 
lander and some French. And they were very quiet. Staying 

260 



in the monastery were a few ofl&cers who have worked too 
hard or been under too great a nerve strain and they are 
there in that very quiet place just getting rest that can’t be got 
any place else. They listen to the music and sleep and it does 
them a great deal of good. 

It really isn’t so very bad. The great trouble is the one you 
know, the loneliness. That I can’t dissemble or disassociate. 
I remember best the coffee in the morning and the music at 
night and the dictionary sessions and the painting of chairs 
and where shall we eat tonight. Let’s have a whale of a big 
Christmas and not only string popcorn but also string cran- 
berries and also whatever tinsel we can find. Let’s have a 
really Christmas. There won’t be very much to buy for pres- 
ents but we’ll get some things and we’ll have a goose if you 
can find one, a great fine goose that falls apart if you speak 
above a whisper. I’ve thought and thought and it does seem 
that the corner in front of the lower bathroom door is the best 
place for the tree. It is very funny in this heat to think of a 
fine cannel coal fire but I do think of it. And maybe it will be 
snowing. You get to dwelling on these things. 

There is a theme that is beating in on me and it is the 
theme of Africa. It is a very strange place. It looks so like 
California and it is a place that has never been a nation and 
only a kind of a piece of loot for four thousand years and 
probably more. All of the time I am conscious of the many 
kinds of soldiers who have tramped over these roads but 
always to raid and to loot. You rarely find a man who says I 
am Algierian. He is French or Arab or German but never 
African. And yet the place has such charm and such beauty in 
some ways that people come back again and again to it. I know 
I would like to bring you here when there is peace again. 


August 28 [1943] 

Darling: 

Your cable of worry about Mary was just forwarded to me 
from London. Bill was reported missing on July 17 . 1 just got 
the flash and the report must have gone to Mary. Poor dear. 
I don’t know what to do. I have asked for any supplementary 
information and have been unable to get any. You see it is 
forbidden to send a personal cable and a letter will take so 
long to reach her that it will be lost news. The report is 
simply missing in action and nothing more. 

261 



I would feel much better about everything if I knew you 
were all right and well and steadfast. I have been turned 
toward you like a compass the whole time. And I will get 
another letter off to you as soon as I can. 

love to you my dear 

I had only finished that when I had another report on Bill. 
About a week after the invasion of Sicily, he went out with 
troops and did not return and that is all that is known. He had 
just been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and 
was decorated in absentia. His commanding officer will 
write to Mary and give her all the information available. 
There is no evidence that he was killed. He simply did not 
come back. And that is absolutely all anyone knows so far. I 
would like you to use your own judgement about telephoning 
Mary. Perhaps she would like to come now to stay with you. 
I wish I were nearer to help her if there were anything in the 
world I could do. There have been many amazing returns 
from impossible situations. 

Mary will do what she has to do. I am sure that she has 
been prepared for this shock for many months. Help her all 
you can, dear. I wish I could. She knows at least that Bill 
wanted it this way. He was not a very happy man and he had 
not found what he wanted and he was looking for it. Maybe 
this was it. Maybe this was it all along. 

You may tell Mary for me I believe Bill very much alive. 
I do not believe Bill is dead. 


[After the Salerno landing] 
September 20 [1943] 

Gwyn darling: 

Well we’re clear of it — at least nearly. 

I’m gay today — maybe because I’m still alive but more I 
think because I’ve been as far away from you as I am going 
and now I’m starting back — slowly, perhaps, but always in 
that direction. And it makes me very happy. Because I’ve 
done the things I had to do and I don’t think any inner com- 
pulsion will make me do them again. 

You should see my costume— ragged dirty khaki shirt and 
trousers, canvas rope soled shoes bought in an Italian town 
— ^no hat or cap, nothing but a helmet. As soon as I get to a 
base I’m going to throw it all away and start fresh. 

262 



[Italy] 

September 22 [1943] 

Darling: 

That last was written on a ship and now I am back at a base 
— still a little deaf but extremely happy 

Because 

There was a packet of letters from you all through July and 
one in August and the V mail one from Sept. 1 . 1 got in touch 
with Bill’s general and he is going to get me a full report and 
if it is anything good I’ll cable. I cabled the office today to call 
you and tell you I was out of it and safe. 

I can’t tell you how much the letters meant. I lined them 
up and went to bed— the first bed I’d been in in three weeks 
and I spent an evening with them. They were two months old 
but that didn’t matter, they were you. And now from having 
nothing to talk about, I have lots. 

I’ve had a charmed life these last three weeks or someone 
had me in prayers or something. There was one tough night 
when you were with me all the time. I wonder if you knew 
it. It was the 14th and really a rough time. But I haven’t a 
scratch and my ears are coming back so I can hear quite well 
again. 

I don’t let myself think about time. I would go wacky. This 
marriage is something strong in me beyond belief. I’m 
burned black and my hair is cropped — quarter of an inch 
long for very good reasons and generally I’m a flea bitten, 
mosquito bitten, scratched up mess. The only white part of 
me is under my ring. I’ve never had it off not once since I left 
home — not even to wash my hands. 


[London] 

[Fall 1943] 

My darling — 

I got you a present today and I hope it goes with this 
letter. Open the box very carefully because it is glass. 
They are i8th century English glasses— between 1760-70. 
Called cotton white twist glass. They are very rare fine spec- 
imens and the art of making them has been lost. They shine 
like diamonds and look wonderful with silver on a dark 
table. Candle light makes them wonderful. Nearly all of 
them are collector’s pieces but we will drink wine out of 
them. 

263 



You say you feel cut off and not part of me. I surely feel 
you are part of me all the time. 


Darling I miss you so badly. 

I see all these thousands of lonely soldiers here and they 
are going through the same thing. There’s a kind of walk 
they have in London, an apathetic shuffle. They’re looking 
for something. They’ll say it’s a girl — any girl, but it isn’t that 
at all. 

The whores line the streets in the black out. They have 
umbrellas for when it is wet. Many of them are refugees. 
Some have little flashlights and as you pass they turn it on 
their own faces, on and off, quickly. When there is no light 
the soldier lights a cigarette and in that way gets a quick look 
at his love. Then they go into the park or in a door way. It’s 
the saddest damned thing. And venereal disease is way up — 
terribly up. But there’s something about these poor drab little 
things soliciting in the rain. Well, anyway, that’s what these 
soldiers think they are looking for. 

I have two bets that the German war will be over in Decem- 
ber. This is based on no knowledge at all and I am laughed 
at loudly. With my record of intuition I suppose I couldn’t 
find a better way of prolonging the war. 

love to you. 

J. 


The “journal” is finished. Steinbeck returned to 
New York. 

Many years later, writing to his friend Joseph Bryan 
III, he said: 

“I have a book coming out in the fall — the war pieces 
I did for the H.-Tribune. I hadn’t seen them since the 
war. There are many things in them I didn’t know 
I was writing — among others a hatred for war. Hell, 
I thought I was building the war up.” 

In the introduction to this book, which was entitled 
Once There Was A War, he wrote: 

264 



“This war that I speak of came after the plate armor 
and longbows of Crecy and Agincourt and just 
before the little spitting experimental atom bombs 
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. [These accounts] are 
period pieces, the attitudes archaic, the impulses 
romantic, and, in the light of everything that has 
happened since, perhaps the whole body of work 
untrue and warped and one-sided. The pieces in this 
volume were written under pressure and in tension. 
They are as real as the wicked witch and the good 
fairy, as true and tested and edited as any other 
myth.” 


To Webster F. Street 


[New York] 
December 13, 1943 

Dear Toby: 

It has suddenly turned quite cold here but no snow yet. 
We’ve both had colds but not bad ones and the flu has become 
epidemic. Also I have a symptom or two that you will proba- 
bly recognize. Sudden blank brain — not knowing who or 
where I am. They only last a few seconds, and are followed 
by a blinding headache which lasts a few seconds and then 
all right. 

We’re going to leave here on the nth of Jan. but will be back 
in a couple of months or sooner. I’m going to try to get some 
perspective on the war by going away from it. I don’t under- 
stand it now. 

Had a letter from Ed [Ricketts] — ^who seems to be doing 
well. Heaven knows when we’ll get out there but probably 
next fall. Probably everything will be changed by then. 
There is a curious sense of change going on. Kind of a rum- 
ble. No one seems to notice it but it has an ominous sound to 
me and I think hell is stirring. 

It’s nice sitting in here by the fire and cold as hell out- 
side. I’m working on a funny little book that is fun and it 
is pretty nice [possibly Cannery Row]. I don’t even go to 
movies. The crowds are so great everywhere and you get 

265 



pushed around so much that I don’t bother to try any 
more. 

Well — we’ll be back before too long. 

’Bye, 

John 


To Twentieth Century-Fox 
Film Corporation 


New York 
January lo, 1944 

Dear Sirs: 

I have just seen the film Lifeboat, directed by Alfred Hitch- 
cock and billed as written by me. While in many ways the 
film is excellent there are one or two complaints I would like 
to make. While it is certainly true that I wrote a script for 
Lifeboat, it is not true that in that script as in the film there 
were any slurs against organized labor nor was there a stock 
comedy Negro. On the contrary there was an intelligent and 
thoughtful seaman who knew realistically what he was 
about. And instead of the usual colored travesty of the half 
comic and half pathetic Negro there was a Negro of dignity, 
purpose and personality. Since this film occurs over my 
name, it is painful to me that these strange, sly obliquities 
should be ascribed to me. 

John Steinbeck 


266 



To Annie Laurie Williams 


TELEGRAM 


MEXICO CITY 
FEBRUARY I9, I944 

PLEASE CONVEY THE FOLLOWING TO 20 TH CENTURY FOX IN VIEW OF 
THE FACT THAT MY SCRIPT FOR THE PICTURE LIFE BOAT WAS DIS- 
TORTED IN PRODUCTION SO THAT ITS UNE AND INTENTION HAS BEEN 
CHANGED AND BECAUSE THE PICTURE SEEMS TO ME TO BE DANGER- 
OUS TO THE AMERICAN WAR EFFORT I REQUEST MY NAME BE 
REMOVED FROM ANY CONNECTION WITH ANY SHOWING OF THIS FILM 

JOHN STEINBECK 


“We are leading a very quiet life, just resting like 
mad,” he wrote Annie Laurie Williams on February 
21 from Mexico. “I find I needed it more than I knew. 
Gwyn is fine and so is the other that you know 
about.” [She was pregnant.] 

With regard to the telegram Steinbeck had sent 
about Lifeboat, he wrote in the same letter: 

“It does not seem right that knowing the elfect of 
the picture on many people, the studio still lets it 
go. As for Hitchcock, I think his reasons were very 
simple. I. He has been doing stories of interna- 
tional spies and master minds for so long that it 
has become a habit. And second, he is one of those 
incredible English middle class snobs who really 
and truly despise working people. As you know, 
there were other things that bothered me— techni- 
cal things. I know that one man can’t row a boat of 
that size and in my story, no one touched an oar 
except to steer.” 

Steinbeck’s charge of distortion is supported by Rob- 
ert E. Morsberger, Chairman of the Department of 

267 



English at California State Polytechnic University, 
who has made a study of the subject. He quotes 
Hitchcock’s statement that after engaging a second 
novelist and then a professional screenwriter, he 
himself did some rewriting on the screenplay, 
so that Steinbeck’s original narrative — realistic, 
thoughtful, grim, and politically aware — ^was con- 
siderably altered. Steinbeck’s request to have his 
name removed from the credits was not granted. 


To Carlton A. Sheffield 


330 East 51st Street 
New York 
April 12 [1944] 

Dear Dook: 

It has been a very long time of not writing and not hearing. 
During my fuss in California I rather purposely cut myself 
off because I didn’t see any reason for putting a very unhappy 
thing on other people and then the war came along and I got 
mixed up in it. You will laugh to think that for a year and a 
half I tried to get into the army but was blackballed from this 
largest club in the world. I am very glad of it now but at the 
time I was very sad about it. Had I succeeded I would either 
have been guarding a bridge in Santa Fe or writing squibs for 
the Santa Ana Air Force Monitor. As it is I’ve had a look at 
the war, too much of a look I guess. 

Having some strange symptoms which continued, I went to 
a doctor last week and found that both ear drums had been 
burst and that there are probably little vesicles burst all over 
my body, in the head and under the skin and in the stomach. 
He says that in some cases where post mortems have been 
performed the vesicles even in the marrow of the bones were 
found to be burst. Anyway it will take from a year to two 
years for the little clots to absorb and it just has to be weath- 
ered. I can hear quite well now so the drums are healing or 
are healed but the others, the nervousness, dreams, sleep- 
lessness etc. have to take their own time. I took a very bad 
268 



pasting in Italy but oddly enough was not hit at all. It occurs 
to me that there are about fifty thousand men who are having 
the same trouble. There is going to be a frightening amount 
of it after the war. 

We are living in an apartment at the above address and 
Gwyn is going to have a baby in July which makes me very 
glad. Then I am going to make a picture in Mexico [ The Pearl] 
next winter and after that we hope to get back to California. 

I am very homesick for it. The kid will be old enough to travel 
by next winter so we will take a house and work out of it. The 
film is to be made in Lower California with an all-Mexican 
cast and director and money. It should be a lot of fun. We just 
got back from a couple of months down there. I hadn’t real- 
ized how tired I was until I went into a partial collapse and 
just sat and watched things for two solid months. Had in- 
tended to do some writing but had no heart for it. 

Now I am back at work and working every day on a silly 
book that is fun anyway. We have here the lower part of an 
old brownstone with a yard and we have a sheep dog who is 
as crazy as all my dogs are. If in New York at all this is a 
pleasant place to live. It doesn’t at all look like a New York 
apartment and it does have a yard. And like most people who 
live here a while, we rarely go out of our neighborhood. This 
is the most insular town. Little islands of people who never 
go out of their districts. It is very different in the west al- 
though you always stuck very close to home. 

I wish that you would let me hear the things that have 
happened to you and what you are doing. 

Ours is a comfortable relaxed house and we like each other 
very much and that is a good thing. I didn’t know it was 
possible. And this might be a very good baby because of that 
easiness and relaxation. I am looking forward to it with great 
pleasure. 

The war news is good but I know how it is warped by 
the papers. When we were winning great victories in Italy 
and marching triumphantly on the Germans, we were ac- 
tually getting the shit shot out of us. And I remember one 
report how we had broken through the German lines. Ac- 
tually what happened was that Jerry retreated during the 
night and we couldn’t find him, and that’s how we broke 
through his lines. But there were some strange and won- 
derful things that happened too, things to be told later. 
But to tackle the cosmic foolishness of war is beyond me 

269 



and I just get tired thinking about it. 

Do write and let me know all the things that have hap- 
pened in the great blank. I’d like so much to hear. 

as always 
jon 


To Webster F. Street 


[New York] 
July 4, 1944 

Dear Toby: 

I have been working madly at a book [Cannery Row] and 
Gwyn has been working calmly at a baby [Thom Steinbeck] 
and it looks as though it might be a photo finish. That should 
be a good omen if you like omens. 

It has been a very cool summer so far, thank God. We’ll 
catch it later but it would be bad for Gwyn now. She will be 
about ready in another week. And still she isn’t puffy. In fact 
she is prettier than ever and she is very calm and nice. It has 
been a very good pregnancy. 

Working at home today. I have been working over at the 
Viking office. 

Ed writes that he had a vacation and spent it in the library 
at Berkeley. He seemed in good shape and in good spirits. It 
has been hard to do a book because I’ve had to work for the 
treasury and the army too and it is kind of sneaking a book 
out. But it is a kind of fun book that never mentions the war 
and it is a relief to work on. 

It is a long time since I have heard from you. Do things go 
all right? I haven’t been drinking anything because of work 
and because Gwyn lost her taste for it and it is no fun alone. 
Maybe we’ll pick it up when the baby arrives. 

The war goes well, doesn’t it — the fighting part of it any- 
way. The Russians will win it pretty soon perhaps. 

Well anyway let me hear from you. 

John 


270 



To Jack and Max Wagner 

TELEGRAM 

NEW YORK 
AUGUST 2 , 1944 

BOY NAMED THOM SIX POUNDS TEN OUNCES BOTH DOING SPLENDIDLY 

JOHN 


To Webster F. Street 


[New York] 
August 25, 1944 

Dear Toby: 

This has been a busy and an exciting time. Thom seems to 
be a baby-shaped baby and I like him very much. There isn’t 
much to like about him yet. He just eats and sleeps and shits 
but I can think of worse kids. Gwyn is still a little peaked but 
is on the mend now. We’re planning to go out there about the 
ist of October. Our lease is up here and we won’t renew. 
Probably rent a house until we find the place we want. Have 
lots of energy and a good desire to get to work. I think getting 
back will be good for me. 

We may settle up the valley or on the coast but we’ll take 
a long time looking first. And I don’t want a place so big or 
so complicated that I can’t leave it some months out of the 
year either. This has been a good flat. The nicest and most 
comfortable I have seen in New York, but I surely don’t want 
to live here. 

I have a good feeling about going back. Hope nothing over- 
turns it. And I do want to sit on the rocks and fish and not 
catch anything. 

Thom is a good healthy kid with red hair and blue eyes and 


271 



he can’t see yet but there’s nothing to look at anyway. 
We’ll be seeing you before too long. 


’Bye, 

John 


To Carlton A. Sheffield 


New York 
September 27, 1944 

Dear Book: 

The apartment is all torn up now. We are getting out — 
going back to Monterey. I’ve rented two small houses down 
the coast — one to live in and one to work in. I’ve had a won- 
derful sense of going home but just lately I’m a little scared. 
Probably the same thing as your saying you aren’t at ease 
with me. There must have been a change in me and in every- 
one else. I’d like to settle there if I can. Gwyn and baby are 
flying out and I am driving a second hand Buick station 
wagon with household goods. I’ll make it in six to eight days 
with luck. 


Apparently in response to a remark of Sheffield’s 
about child-raising and self-expression, he con- 
tinued: 

There’s so much horse shit about babies; schools change 
every ten years. Mary raised a couple of nice ones by forcing 
them to be considerate or leave the room so I think it can be 
done. And this fatherhood is interesting but also surrounded 
by horse shit. I think people act the way they’re expected to 
act. I see nothing remarkable in this child at all. He’s going 
to be reasonably pleasant looking and he has all his members 
and is healthy. And because he is healthy he doesn’t cry 
unless he is hungry. If I can I’m going to build a cell for him 
because that’s where they belong for several years. They are 
mean little animals. And that is that. Neither of us are gaga 

272 



but we’re very glad to have him and we’ll have some more. 

I finished the book called Cannery Row. It will be out in 
January. If Pat Covici sends me an extra proof I’ll send you 
one. I don’t know whether it is effective or not. It’s written on 
four levels and people can take what they can receive out of 
it. One thing — it never mentions the war — not once. I would 
be anxious to know what you think of it. You’ll find a lot of 
old things in it. I find I go back to extensions of things we 
talked about years ago. Maybe we were sounder then. Cer- 
tainly we were thinking more universally. The crap I wrote 
over seas had a profoundly nauseating effect on me. Among 
other unpleasant things modem war is the most dishonest 
thing imaginable. 

Anyway, from October 15 until Xmas I am going to try to 
do a script for a picture to be made in Mexico [The Pearl], all 
Mexican direction and acting and even Mexican money. 
Then in January, I’ll go dovra and watch them make it. It is 
a chance to do an honest picture and I am going to try it. I 
have complete control of the picture and very good people 
are involved in it. 

Within a year or so I want to get to work on a very large 
book I’ve been thinking about for at least two years and a 
half. Everything else is kind of marking time. Work is still 
fun and still work. It hasn’t ever got any easier. 

After all these years I’m learning to use a pencil and to 
write big. One of those incredible things happened the other 
day. When I was off the coast of Italy I went with British 
torpedo boats for a while — raiding the shipping at Gaeta and 
Genoa and over between Corsica and Sardinia before they 
were taken. I had a little school note book and one night we 
were off Genoa and I was below making some notes and an 
alert sounded so I went on deck and it was pitch black. Then 
all of a sudden a flak ship started firing on us and I hit the 
deck because tracers scare hell out of you and the boat 
started running and twisting. Well that was the last I saw of 
my note book. Recently it arrived in the mail from England. 
Sent by the Ministry of Information. I suppose it got stuck in 
the slats some place and the skipper sent it in. Now I remem- 
ber that skipper. He was 26 and his name was Greene-Kelly. 
He was killed eight months ago when he attacked two E 
boats. He sunk one and crippled the other and then two more 
came down on him and sunk him. But my note book got back. 

You can reach me through the lab. I’ll write you the other 


273 



address when I know it. It will be a rural box number. Mean- 
while, I’ll hope to see you soon. 

bye 

John 


The legend on which the film of The Pearl was 
based had been told in a few sentences in Sea of 
Cortez, which had been a collaboration by Stein- 
beck and Ed Ricketts. 


To Pascal Covici 


[Monterey] 
October 24 [1944] 

Dear Pat: 

No word from you so I don’t know whether you got back or 
not. Anyway, we bought a house in Monterey. You may think 
this precipitate but it is a house I have wanted since I was a 
little kid. It is one of the oldest and nicest adobes in town — 
with a huge garden — ^two blocks from the main street and yet 
unpaved and no traffic. Four blocks from the piers. It was 
built in the late 1830’s before the gold rush and is in perfect 
shape. We are very happy to get it. And we’ll move in about 
the loth. I’ll send you some pictures of it. I hope to live in it for 
a long time. It is something you can close up and not worry. 

All colds are over now. The weather is brilliant as usual 
this time of year. Gwyn is here deep in plans for decorating 
the new house. It was built by the Soto family and is called 
simply Soto House. Its garden is eight city lots and no new 
neighbors and the whole surrounded by adobe wall. You’ll 
like it. And it is a laughing house. 


274 


that’s all 
John 



In a later letter to Covici Steinbeck described the 
garden, and plans for work: 

“Plenty of room for trees, both walnuts and almonds. 
There are two pear trees already over a hundred 
years old. I think I may get an office to work in. I 
would probably work better if I just went into an 
office and sat four hours a day. As at Viking. Four 
doleful walls and a ground glass door are about my 
speed, particularly if the door says ‘Accountant.’ ” 

It worked out differently. 


To Pascal Covici 


[Soto House] 
[Monterey] 
[November 1944] 

Dear Pat: 

I seem to be flooding you with letters, but here is a story I 
think you will like. You remember I told you I was going to 
get an office to work in. In Monterey there is only one office 
building, owned by a man named Parsons. I tried to reach 
him for three days and this morning got him by phone. I said, 
“I want to rent an office for a couple of months.” “Very well,” 
he said, “we have some vacancies. What is your name?” 
“Steinbeck,” I said. “And what is your business?” “I’m a 
writer,” I said. There was a long pause and then — “Do you 
have a business license?” “No,” I said, “none is required in 
my business.” — Another long pause, then “I’m sorry — ^we 
don’t want people like that. We want professional people like 
doctors and dentists and insurance.” 

Isn’t that wonderful? So I cleaned out the wood shed and 
set up a table and I’ll work there. I just thought you’d like to 
know that I can’t get an office in my own home town and that 
the building owner never heard of me. Sic transit or perhaps 
it never existed. 


275 


So long 
John 



At the end of November, reporting progress on The 
Pearl, he wrote Covici again. 

“Long distance phone call last night. Man from 
Christian Science Monitor. Wants to come down 
Sunday to discuss Cannery Row. Seems they have 
heard that I said half the whores were Christian 
Scientists. On the phone I said, “Would you be upset 
if it were so? There were only two chief woman cha- 
racters in the life of Jesus and one was Magdalene.” 
“No,” he said, but he wanted to discuss it. So he’s 
coming over on Sunday and the discussion should be 
fun. Maybe if I work it right we can get banned not 
only by Boston but by the Christian Scientists as 
well. The ideal is to be banned by everybody — then 
everybody would have to read it.” 

The garden occupied him as usual. 

“I have been planting cypress trees to fill in some of 
the old ones that have died. They seem to belong 
here. The Monterey cypress is unique in the world 
except for one part of China, and the myth is that the 
Chinese explorers long centuries before Columbus 
planted them here. It is known that the Chinese 
planted trees instead of flags as a token of discov- 


To Mildred Lyman 

OF THE MCINTOSH AND OTIS STAFF 


Dear Mildred: 


[Monterey] 
December 2, 1944 


Beautiful cold morning. Friday night Gwyn pinned one on 
me. One of those fine natural binges that is not planned and 
is easy and natural. So last night I went to bed early and now 
I’m waiting for the Christian Science man. 

Pat writes that advance sales on Cannery Row are beyond 
his expectations — 60% beyond, he says. But you know Pat. 
Perhaps his enthusiasm exceeds his figures. Gosh, it’s a 
276 



beautiful day. Brilliantly sunny and clear. Some night next 
week Gwyn and I are going out with the sardine fleet. She has 
never been and it will fascinate her. It is a very spectacular 
thing and very exciting when they come on the fish. 

I can look out at the garden from here where a little Span- 
ish man is trimming the overgrown bushes and trees and 
doing a fine job of it. Sunday morning is a good time here. It’s 
the Sundayest morning you can imagine. It lacks only chick- 
ens talking. When I was little I imagined that chickens made 
a very special kind of gobble talk on Sunday morning. 

Well, the Xtian Science man came and he seems very nice 
and cagey and clever. He wondered if people wouldn’t get the 
wrong impression. I said that some people always got the 
wrong impression. There wasn’t much he could say without 
giving the impression of snobbishness. When he left, he said, 
“I just leave this thought with you. If they practiced prostitu- 
tion and Christian Science, they were not good Christian 
Scientists.” And I said, “Well, that’s all right, because they 
weren’t very good prostitutes either.” So he laughed and we 
parted on a friendly basis. He said they would have to make 
a statement and I said I would be upset if they didn’t. 

Nurse’s day off. Gwyn is making formula. And we’re going 
to have baked beans tonight — ^Boston style. 

Love to all, 
John 


It was a happy Christmas. 

“Gwyn gave me some beautiful old American glass,” 
he wrote Elizabeth Otis. “And, since her eyes have 
tested OK by the State, I got her a little convertible 
Ford to learn to drive. We had a large noisy tree 
decorating party with a Mexican orchestra. Gwyn 
got a bad cold out of it. 

“Pat did the most beautiful thing for Gwyn. He 
bound original, typescript, corrected galleys all 
separately, and then had a case made like a big book 
and included page proofs and finished book.” 


277 



And to Covici: 


“Gwyn will write you but she has to stay in bed a 
couple of days now. She has a bad cold brought on 
by exhaustion. My sister gave me an olive wood box 
my father had left for me full of papers I didn’t even 
know about. My grandfather’s Civil War papers. His 
marriage license, his citizenship papers — ^last night 
we went over some of them. Passes for my grand- 
mother to go through the Union lines signed by 
guerrilla officers. Deeds to property in Palestine and 
in Florida. A bill for a headstone for my grandfa- 
ther’s brother ‘murdered by the Bedowin’ in Jaffa in 

1853-” 

As for the new book: 

“The better people in this town don’t know whether 
they like Cannery Row or not. They are waiting to 
see what other people think. This attitude is always 
true of better people. The critics say at once that it 
is not true to nature and that it is in bad taste. In 
nature two things do not occur — the wheel and good 
taste. So what do they want? Robert Nathan always 
writes in good taste — so does Kathleen Norris.” 

And, finally: 

“There is a time in every writer’s career when the 
critics are gunning for him to whittle him down. 
This is my stage for that. It has been since The 
Grapes of Wrath.” 


To Jack and Max Wagner 


Monterey 
[January 23, 1945] 

Dear Jack and Max: 

Things are lightening up a little here. The nurse was sick 
and poor Gwyn has been taking care of both the baby and the 
nurse. I thought Gwyn would end up in the hospital but she 
is all right and is getting some sleep finally. 

278 



Thom is fine and gay. Getting 'to be a kind of personable 
child. He has been very happy ever since his last tooth came 
through. 

And I’m in the last stretch of the Pearl. I should finish this 
draft in about a week. Fernandez [Emilio Fernandez, who 
would be the director] is supposed to come up some time 
around the first to the 15th of Feb. to work on shooting script. 
I won’t go to Mexico until I know the cameras are rolling. I 
know how the delays are. 

Cannery Row took a frightful pounding by the critics and 
they went too far. Annie Laurie phoned to say that her tele- 
phone rang all the time from studios wanting to buy it and 
what should she do. So I told her she was on her own — to sell 
or not sell — whenever she was ready. She has a magnificent 
sense of timing for such things. And she knows what we 
want. A lot of money, control of the script. And this time I am 
going to ride herd on it. I’ll act as consultant — for a consider- 
ation. I thought the adverse criticism would hurt the book 
but she says quite the opposite. The sales are tremendous and 
that’s what interests the studios — not the critics. 

There has been frost every day for a week. I’ve never 
known Monterey to be like that. 

I guess that’s about all. I’ve got to go to work. The Pearl is 
really in its last stages. It’s a brutal story but with flashes of 
beauty I think. 

Let me hear from you. 

John 


Steinbeck and Jack Wagner, who was assisting him 
on the script of The Pearl, left for Mexico at the 
beginning of April 1945, with Gwyn and the baby 
following. But before his departure, Steinbeck 
confided to Pascal Covici something that was trou- 
bling him deeply. He had first mentioned it late in 
December of the year before: 

“What saddens me is the active hatred of the writers 
and pseudo- writers around here. It will not be terri- 
bly long before we will be associating only with 
fishermen. There is a deep and active jealousy out 


279 



here that makes me very sad. I haven’t mentioned 
it before.” 

By spring, it was a deep conviction. 


To Pascal Covici 


[Monterey] 
[Spring 1945] 

Dear Pat: 

This is a private letter really. We’re going back to Mexico 
in a few days. And I’m glad to go. You remember how happy 
I was to come back here. It really was a home coming. Well 
there is no home coming nor any welcome. What there is is 
jealousy and hatred and the knife in the back. I’m beginning 
to think I made a mistake. I don’t mind that but I’m not going 
to let a mistake ride me on through. This is no new thing. I’ve 
tried to conceal it and explain it and analyze it and make a 
joke of it and to ignore it. It’s much more than a feeling. 

Our old friends won’t have us back — always except Ed. 
Mostly with them it is what they consider success that gets 
in between. And the town and the region — that is the people 
of it— just pure poison. I laughed about being refused an 
olfice. But the local gas board cut off my gas in spite of the 
fact that I had a job with the War Food Administration. Ours 
is the first request to repair a house that has been rejected. 
60 homes are being built for rent but we can’t get a plank to 
replace a rotten board in the kitchen. These are just two of 
many things. I hate a feeling of persecution but I am just not 
welcome here. 

But I’m not going to jump any guns. We’re going to be in 
Mexico four or five months and then we’ll give it another try 
and if it doesn’t work we’ll clear out. 

Maybe you can figure something, but this I can tell you, I 
was happier in New York. Living is people, not places. I have 
no peers here — in notoriety and so called success — ^and the 
people who are coming up are ferocious. There’s no one to 

280 



talk to except Ed. You see, Pat — I would and can forget all the 
publicity etc. but these people can’t and won’t. 

This isn’t my country anymore. And it won’t be until I am 
dead. It makes me very sad. 

John 


In Cuernavaca he worked hard on the script of The 
Pearl Gwyn’s knowledge of music proved helpful in 
transcribing regional themes for the film. 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Cuernavaca, Mexico 
May 3, 1945 

Dear Elizabeth: 

Just got your letter yesterday. Naturally I am very glad and 
frankly relieved that you like The Pearl. It was so full of 
experiments and I had no idea whether they would come off 
at all. Gwyn made some recordings of the basic music — the 
Family and Pearl themes. The Evil music is not finished. 
Gwyn is going to try to have a pressing sent to you. These 
themes are ancient Indian music long preceding the Con- 
quest. And I think they are beautiful. Anyway, I’m terribly 
pleased that you like the story and that Pat does. I hope that 
you and he will consider very carefully whether another 
little book is a good idea. I can’t imagine how Colliers could 
print it because of its length but I wish they would. They are 
getting such a good reputation. 

No, it didn’t seem far away when the President died. The 
only violence I heard of was Alice Leone Moats’ father who 
came out on the hotel porch and said, “Well, I hear Rosen- 
berg is dead,” and a Spanish girl slapped him across the 
mouth and walked away. 

281 




Interesting. Scripps-Howard wired me asking me to write 
about Ernie Pyle. I did and wired asking how to send it. They 
replied by wire that it was too late. This was ten days after 
his death and he was no longer news to Scripps-Howard 
whom he had been practically supporting. Sic etc. 

I guess the Germans will fold in a couple of days. It seems 
so unreal. When they go down they’re much better than up. 
Hitler and Goebbels yesterday. Berlin. Hoped for for years 
and you can’t really believe it when it happens. 

Will be seeing you in the fall. Love to all, 

John 


To Annie Laurie Williams 


Cuernavaca 
June 26 [1945] 

Dear Annie Laurie: 

There is a thing I want to discuss with you. I was ap- 
proached the other day by an outfit that calls itself Pan- 
American Films with the proposition that I do a film on the 
life of Emiliano Zapata. Now there is no other story I would 
rather do. But there are certain things in the way. 

I have, as you know, work ahead for a long time to come. 
I would not even be ready to make a start until a year from 
this fall. 

The difificulty of making it straight would be very great. 
There are still men living and in power who helped to trick 
and murder Zapata. I would only make it straight. I would 
require gov’t assurance that it could be made straight histori- 
cally. This will have to be an iron bound agreement because 
Zapata could be one of the great films of all time as by a twist 
or a concession it could be a complete double cross of the 
things Zapata lived and died for. 

We’re still plugging away at the shooting script. In the 
States I wouldn’t do it but here I want to give them a tight 
story for the first time. It’s a battle with energy because the 
dysentery still persists and that doesn’t leave much strength. 

282 


We celebrated St. John’s day with lo dozen skyrockets and 
we named big ones for you and Maurice. 


Love to you both, 
John 


The effects of the dysentery lingered. Almost three 
weeks later he wrote Elizabeth Otis: 

“We thought we had picked up amoebae and were 
having a feces examination. The chemist wrung his 
hands. ‘What a small world,’ he said. ‘I had just put 
down Cannery Row and I had no idea I was examin- 
ing the stool of the author. Que mundo pequenito!’ ” 


To Pascal Covici 


Cuernavaca 
July 12 [1945] 

Dear Pat: 

I am heartily sick of this picture now and there are stir- 
rings in me for new work. This is like beating a down dog. 
I’ve never liked rehashing — ^but I’ll do it this time and it is 
once for all. There’s too much new work to do — to go over 
one’s old. 


Two days earlier he had written Covici: 

“I’m even writing this shooting script and it is the 
last one I shall do. It amounts to reducing your story 
to the most literal terms possible so that a camera 
can take it. And since most of my work depends on 
suggestion rather than literalness this is a little tire- 
some to me.” 


283 



His letter continues: 


The people down here are very kind to us. And I hope 
out of this stay to write a book that may be something for 
them to have. For the Wayward Bus could be something 
like the Don Quixote of Mexico. The more I think of it the 
better I like it and the better I like it the longer its plan 
and the wider its scope until it seems to contain the whole 
world. From the funny little story it is growing to the most 
ambitious thing I have ever attempted. Not that it still 
won’t be funny but funny as Tom Jones and Tristram 
Shandy and Don Quixote are funny. And it isn’t going to 
take a little time to write but a long time and I don’t care, 
for my bus is something large in my mind. It is a cosmic 
bus holding sparks and back firing into the Milky Way 
and turning the corner of Betelgeuse without a hand sig- 
nal. And Juan Chicoy the driver is all the god the fathers 
you ever saw driving a six cylinder broken down, battered 
world through time and space. If I can do it well The 
Wayward Bus will be a pleasant thing. 

So long — we’ll have fun. 

John 


In 1956, writing to Charles Brackett, who was pre- 
paring to produce the film of The Wayward Bus, 
Steinbeck recalled the novel’s beginnings: 

“I don’t think I ever told you the origin of this story. 
It was first projected in Mexico, and its first synop- 
sis was written in Spanish for Mexico. At that time 
it had a wonderful title, I think. It was called El 
Camion Vacilador. The word vacilador, or the verb 
vacilar, is not translatable unfortunately, and it’s a 
word we really need in English because to be ‘vaci- 
lando’ means that you’re aiming at some place, but 
you don’t care much whether you get there. We 
don’t have such a word in English. Wayward has 
an overtone of illicitness or illegality, based of 
course on medieval lore where wayward men were 
vagabonds. But vacilador is not a vagabond at all. 

284 



Wayward was the nearest English word that I 
could find.” 


To Pascal Covici 


Dear Pat — 


Cuernavaca 

[1945] 


Last night a very strange thing happened. Anciently it 
would have had a very definite effect on a person. The moon 
came up red and sullen through a black haze. We sat on the 
porch watching it because of its very threatening color. 
These black clouds like mares’ tails moved up from the hori- 
zon, big black streaks. Jack Wagner yelled suddenly — 
“Look!” It was a very strange thing. The clouds spelled in 
huge black letters JOHN right across the moon. It was very 
definite and lasted five minutes before it drifted away. We 
called Gwyn to look at it. I have seen letters in clouds before 
but never four definite letters. In an age of portents it would 
be effective. Such a thing might have caused the Magna 
Carta not to be signed. 

so long, 
John 


“My feelings about Monterey don’t seem to change,” 
Steinbeck wrote Pascal Covici on July 10, 1945. “The 
old nostalgia was knocked right out of me the last 
time. And I’m afraid for good. I thought it might be 
a momentary pique or anger. But it isn’t. It isn’t as 
hot as it was but my distaste for going back increases 
rather than softens.” 

Late in 1945 the Steinbecks sold their Monterey 
house. Gwyn Steinbeck went ahead to New York 

285 



with Thom, and her husband followed in the car 
from Mexico City with the houseman. 


To Jack Wagner 


156 East 37th Street 
New York 
December 15, 1945 

Dear Jack: 

Well we got here. Dreadful trip. Car broke down 100 kms 
out of Mexico City. My expensive overhaul was a snare. They 
charged me but didn’t do any work. What cheap shits of 
thieves they are. I would like really to kick that garage to 
pieces. Just chicken shit thieves. We pushed the car 1,800 
miles before we could get a repair job. The whole country is 
frozen and we nearly froze to death. No sleep for three days. 
They didn’t like Victor to go in restaurants in Texas. Al- 
together a nightmare of a trip. 

Gwyn had found this apartment. Not gaudy but warm and 
to have found one at all is quite a trick and I was so tired it 
looked like heaven to me. 

Thom is fine and very charming. 

The city is covered with snow and very lovely. I’m crazy 
about winter. 

Merry Xmas and will see you soon. 

John 


He wrote to Max Wagner early in 1946: 

“We bought a house here and are fixing it up. It 
should be ready to move into early in March. It is 
going to be a wonderful house.” 


286 



Actually, it was two adjoining houses with a com- 
mon garden on East 78th Street. 

“Gwyn,” he continued to Max, “is not very well. This 
pregnancy has hit her hard and she has been a mis- 
erable kid but Lord, is she beautiful. We went to the 
theatre last night and she really looked so wonder- 
ful. I hope she feels better soon.” 

His impression of the city had undergone a dra- 
matic change: 

“New York is a wonderful city,” he wrote Jack Wag- 
ner. “I’m glad to be putting down some kind of roots 
here. It is going to be the capital of the world. It isn’t 
like the rest of the country — it’s like a nation itself 
— more tolerant than the rest in a curious way. Lit- 
tleness gets swallowed up here. All the viciousness 
that makes other cities vicious is sucked up and ab- 
sorbed in New York. It is truly the great city of the 
world — an organism in itself— neither good nor bad 
but unique.” 


To Webster F. Street 


175 East 78th Street 
New York 
March 17, 1946 

Dear Toby: 

Quite a long time without hearing from you. 

Our house is nearly finished. I moved into the basement to 
work a couple of weeks ago and we should be in the house 
in about two weeks more. That is going to be such a relief. 
Just the process of spreading out is going to be a joy. Imagine 
being able to get away from the family and getting to the 
toilet without an elaborate plan and a time schedule. 

The working cellar is fine — gray concrete walls and ce- 
ment floor and pipes overhead. A comfortable chair and desk 
and filing cabinet in which I hope to file bills so I can find 
them. All fine — ^no window, no ability to look out and watch 

287 



the postman and the garbage wagon. I’ll go on with my book 
now [The Wayward Bm]. Gwyn only has a couple more 
months of this condition and she is very glad of that but says 
that it is longer than all the rest and I can see how that would 
be too. 

Today is St. Patrick’s Day and a beautiful day. Mostly it 
rains and gets all those Irish wet but that doesn’t prevent 
them from wearing purple robes and dripping purple rain 
all over Fifth Avenue. Hearst has got himself in a hassle. He 
has been printing nothing but accounts of Cardinal Spell- 
man. As Artie Deutsch said, Spellman got more publicity 
than any Cardinal since Dizzy Dean. 

I have been feeling lousy in my mind but today there seems 
to be some break in the clouds and maybe the darkness will 
go away. It has been a period of blue despair such as I haven’t 
had in quite a long time. I don’t know what it was based on 
and maybe it isn’t over but I do feel better today. Such things 
are very mysterious. I finally found my pipes in the stuff that 
was sent out and they taste unbelievably delicious. They 
taste like work. 

I hear from Mexico that the picture looks very good. We are 
kind of pulling in our horns a little this year. When these two 
houses [on 78th Street] are all fixed up then we can let our- 
selves out a little. But the way Gwyn feels now she doesn’t 
want to let out any more. 

So long, 

jn 


To Carl Wilhelmson 


New York 
[Spring 1946] 

Dear Carl: 

I haven’t heard from Dook Sheffield for a long time. He 
seemed so touchy that I gave up. He obviously didn’t want 
any more to do with me and I don’t even want to investi- 
gate why. I think a dislikeness of experience is largely re- 

288 



sponsible with all of these things. 

I have been doing a great deal of work, most of it no good 
and most of it thrown away. It seems like a great waste of 
time but that seems to be my pattern. It gets harder to do all 
the time, I guess, as I learn more about the pure technical 
difficulties. I’m working on a thing now that is giving me hell 
— a long novel. I want to take a long time with it. It seems to 
me that I have been rushing for five or six years, rushing as 
though I were trying to beat something. But if I had a fatal 
idea that I am easy to kill I should have lost it. Everything 
missed me in Europe. Also I should be done with fear but I 
guess I’m not. 

I hope you do get to work. The getting to work is a purely 
mechanical thing as you well know — a conscious and self- 
imposed schoolroom. After that, other things happen, but the 
beginning is straight pushing. 

We have a young son nearly two years old and another 
baby coming in June. I like the one very much. He is gay and 
fine. There is nothing instructive in single parenthood but 
association is first interesting and then a kind of affection 
grows up the way it does with a puppy. Only a human puppy 
knows so much more that he is more interesting. 

The pure difficulty of learning to talk fascinates me. 
Nearly every waking hour is spent trying to learn that com- 
plex process. I don’t seem to have many of the traditional 
parent’s reactions or maybe no one has. I suspect that many 
of the attitudes of parents are literary and picked up in the 
slick magazines and written by childless people. Or perhaps 
I am subnormal. I have, for instance, no sense of possession 
about this child. I am quite sure that any baby I associated 
with would have the same effect on me. 

That’s all. Write when you feel like it. 

John 


289 



To Jack Wagner 


New York 
May 2, 1946 

Dear Jack: 

During the last few months I have been worried about you 
because the stories that you were drinking again were persis- 
tent. If you were there was nothing to do about it but it 
seemed such a sadness that all the effort had gone for noth- 
ing. I knew in Cuernavaca that you were kidding yourself 
about the beer. Beer is just the same as anything else. And I 
suppose you shouldn’t use it either for refreshment, which it 
isn’t, or for sexual insecurity. All that was and is your busi- 
ness. But I have little patience with it as you well know — ^less 
and less in fact. We’ve been having the runaround from a 
very dear and famous person who is on it. Dear as she is — 
and clever — it isn’t worth it as I told her recently. She is using 
other people’s emotions too deeply. Fuck her and you too if 
you are back on it. 

I know it must have got pretty hectic toward the end down 
there. Everyone hating everyone. It will really be amazing if 
a good thing comes out of it [ The Pearl], But everyone who has 
seen it, and that is nearly everyone in Mexico, says it is quite 
impressive. 

For two months I’ve been fighting the Bus and only now 
have I got a start which seems good. I’ve thrown away thou- 
sands of words. But I think it is good now. And at least it is 
moving. 

We still haven’t a phone but the new house is very pleasant 
otherwise. Gwyn only has about a month yet to go and she is 
pretty uncomfortable and uncomplaining. But she feels 
lousy and this last month is longer than all the others put 
together. She and I will be very glad when it is over. 

Let me hear how everything is. You probably won’t. But try 
to an3rway. 

So long, 
John 


To Webster F. Street 


[New York] 
June 14, 1946 

Dear Toby: 

Well, it got born the day before yesterday and it is a boy. 
Gwyn is pretty well considering and the baby is fine. I think 
it is our family. It is enough. I’m pretty tired. A couple of 
nights sleep will fix me up though. That and a drink or so. 

Now it is later and I have had both sleep and the drink and 
I still feel confused. Maybe that’s the way I will always be. 
Gwyn had a bad night last night but that is usual the third 
day after. She is much better this morning. It is still fine and 
cool here. I don’t know how long this can last. Next week I’ll 
have to get back down to work. I don’t want to interrupt this 
book too much. It is going too smoothly. At least it was and 
I think will again. 

Thom is a very fine boy. He has just discovered a shrill 
shriek that is very piercing. He is experimenting in tones of 
awfulness. When it gets too bad I whistle on my fingers 
which is so much more awful than any scream he can give 
that he gives it all up in pure admiration. 

Love, 

John 


On the same day he announced the news to Jack 
Wagner, adding: 

“The new baby will be named John and is already 
called Juanito. Even Thom calls him that although 
he has never seen him. Thom is completely bilin- 
gual so far and prefers Spanish.” 

Late in the summer the Steinbecks heard from Ed 
Ricketts that his mother had died. 

291 



To Edward F. Ricketts 


New York 
[August 1946] 
Monday 

Dear Ed: 

I had your letters this morning, two of them, and I am 
writing immediately. The matter of death is very personal — 
almost like an idea — and it has to be discovered and accepted 
over and over again no matter what the age or the condition 
of the dying. And there is nothing for the outsider to do ex- 
cept to stand by and maybe to indicate that the person in- 
volved is not so alone as the death always makes him think 
he is. And that is why I am writing this letter. 

The enclosed is for anything you want or need it for. It does 
occur to both Gwyn and me that in all of this there is some 
necessity of saving yourself, and I don’t mean physically, and 
it is a thing that would occur last to you. We thought that you 
might like to use it to come on to see us for a couple of weeks. 
We thought further that a complete change of background 
and people for a little while might have restorative effects 
beyond almost anything. Perhaps we are wrong, but believe 
please that we would be very happy if you would do that. 
Think it over anyway. 

I spoke to Pat about the Guggenheim thing this morning 
and he suggests that you give Viking Press as one of your 
sponsors. He says that the interest of a publisher sometimes 
has some weight. So please remember that, will you? 

The book sails on and I must admit that I am fascinated 
with it. It may be no good at all. I don’t know but it holds my 
interest which is the most important thing. 

That good Gwyn is making a lemon pie or two this after- 
noon than which nothing is lemoner nor nicer nor that I like 
more. The children are well and getting along nicely. 

love to you 
from both of us. 
jn 


292 


There is no record of Ricketts having accepted their 
invitation. 

In the fall, John and Gvsryn Steinbeck sailed for Den- 
mark, whose proportionately large book-buying 
public had long been Steinbeck enthusiasts. Otto 
Lindhardt, his former Danish publisher, recalls that 
Steinbeck once observed that Denmark was the only 
country in the world to keep all his books in print. 


To the McIntosh and Otis staff 


Copenhagen 
October 30, 1946 

Dear Elizabeth and Mildred and Annie Laurie and all; 

We are ensconced in the Hotel and Gvpyn has a sore throat 
and we have been considerably pushed about. Coming in 
there were about thirty cameramen with flashlights and it 
was dreadful. The phone started calling while we were still 
at sea and the only way I saved myself from complete hell 
was by seeing all the reporters yesterday morning. I didn’t 
know anyone treated writers like this. It is the sort of thing 
that would greet Lana Turner if it became known that she 
was going to come into Grand Central Station without any 
clothes on. And it is all so kind and well meant but it is very 
embarrassing. Every morning there is a mound of books to 
be autographed, and presents. Went to a night club last night 
and the orchestra leader played Stephen Foster in my honor. 
We’ve seen old friends and new ones, have had millions of 
toasts and the trip over was a dream. 

Today we went to the legation to lunch. There was a Dan- 
ish baroness or countess there [Baroness Blixen] with her 
attorney. It seems that during the war in desperation she 
turned to writing and in English. She used pseudonyms [Isak 
Dinesen] and had little idea of publication. She wrote Seven 
Gothic Tales which caused quite a stir and Random House 
published it. Now she has another which is Book of the 
Month selection for January. She has no representative in 


293 



America and now the picture companies are after her and 
she came to ask me what to do. Her attorney says he is out 
of his depth. Naturally I told her about you. She is an incred- 
ible little woman. I do recommend her to you. Her work 
needs the management you can give it. You can reject her if 
you wish but I think she might be a profitable and pleasant 
client. 

We are really having a good time but we will only know 
later whether it has been a vacation or not. 

We went to see castles yesterday and Gwyn loved them. I 
got an idea for a wonderful story from it. 

Copenhagen has not been physically hit badly. The air raid 
shelters are everywhere, but they planted grass on them. 
That is like the Danes. It is a lovely country. And now that 
they have stopped photographing us we can relax. 

Love to you all, 
John 


They went on to Sweden, where Steinbeck had a 
reunion with his old friend, the artist and writer, Bo 
Beskow. It was during this visit that Steinbeck sat 
for his second Beskow portrait. 


To Bo Beskow 


New York 
December i6 [1946] 

Dear Bo: 

The photographs of the portrait arrived and I took one of 
them over to Viking Press. It has caused a great deal of en- 
thusiasm and makes me all the more anxious to have the 
original as soon as possible. 

Have not been feeling well. I don’t know why. I am taking 
some vitamins to see whether it could be a food deficiency. 

294 



The depression has lasted too long this time and I don’t like 
it at all. 

I have not gone back to work and that bothers me. 1 
shouldn’t take these long rests. They aren’t good for my soul 
or whatever it is that makes you sick. I make myself think 
that I will go back to work right after Christmas and maybe 
I will. I think Gwyn and the children will go to California for 
a month or six weeks about the first of February to let the 
children see their relatives. But I will just stay here and get 
back to work. Marital vacations are sometimes good things. 
Not that we need them very much. But just as the trip to 
Europe made us love our house so we get to Liking each other 
with a little time spent apart. 

Relationships are very funny things. I’ve wondered what I 
would think if this one were over and I think I would only be 
glad that it had happened at all. I don’t think I would rail at 
fortune, but then it is impossible to know what you would do 
in any given situation unless you have experienced it. It was 
and would be silly of me to make any sort of judgement about 
your difficulty because I do not know all the factors. But 
you’ll never get out clear no matter which way you go. A man 
going on living gets frayed and he drags little tatters and rags 
of things behind him all the rest of his life and his suit is 
never new after he has worn it a little. I’ve had such a bad 
time the last three or four weeks. The complete and mean- 
ingless despair that happens without warning and without 
reason that I can figure unless there happens to be some 
glandular disarrangement. So I am trying to do what I can 
about that and to see whether the feeling will go away. 

Next Sunday we have our tree decorating party. It will be 
a fairly large party with at least forty people but they are all 
nice people. In fact about the best in the city for interest. 
Gwyn is going to have a midnight supper and I will make a 
monster bowl of punch and there we will be. The idea is to 
decorate our Christmas tree in the course of the evening. All 
sorts of arguments usually develop, aesthetic ones. 

It should be a very fine Christmas. 

Good luck and come out from under. 



295 



The letter is unsigned. Instead it is stamped with a 
drawing of “Pigasus,” the flying pig which Stein- 
beck used throughout his life as a symbol of himself, 
earth-bound but aspiring. Sometimes the pun is 
spelled with Greek letters, and often it is accom- 
panied by the motto “Ad Astra Per Alia Porci” (“To 
the stars on the wings of a pig”): “a lumbering soul 
but trying to fly,” he once explained it and another 
time, “not enough wingspread but plenty of inten- 
tion.” 

In February 1947, The Wayward Bus was published. 
An advance copy had gone to Jack Wagner in Janu- 
ary: 

“I hope you will like it although like’ is not the word 
to use. You nor anyone can’t like it. But at least I 
think it is effective. It is interesting to me — the fol- 
lowing — ^This book depends on mood, on detail and 
on all the little factors of writing for its effective- 
ness. It has practically no story. Yet the picture com- 
panies seriously read synopses of it and think that is 
the book. The Bus, incidentally, has 600,000 Book of 
the Month and 150,000 trade first edition before pub- 
lication. And with all that I had to borrow money to 
pay my income tax.” 

About the same time, he wrote Bo Beskow in Swe- 
den: 

“The advance sales of the Bus are stupendous. 
Something near to a million copies and it is still two 
weeks to publication date. This is completely fantas- 
tic. The people who are going to attack it are buying 
it like mad.” 

And to Wagner again, on February 16: 

“The reviews of the Bus out today. I should never 
read reviews, good or bad. They just confuse me 
because they cancel each other out and end up by 
meaning nothing. I should let them alone. The 
book is getting good notices mostly here, although 
a couple of my congenital enemies are sniping. 
That is good for a book. The more arguments the 
better.” 

Even a year later in a letter to Covici he shows some 
residual irritation at the reception of The Wayward 
Bus: 


296 



“I hope some time some people will know what the 
Bus was about. Even with the lead, they didn’t dis- 
cover.” 

The “lead” is undoubtedly the quotation from Every- 
man facing the title page; 

I pray you all gyve audyence, 

And here this mater with reverence, 

Byfygure a morall playe; 

The somonynge of Everyman called it is. 

That of our lyves and endynge shewes 
How transytory we be all daye. 


The New York Herald Tribune now hired Stein- 
beck to visit the Soviet Union with Robert Capa, 
the photographer. Steinbeck’s dispatches would 
later be the basis of his book, A Russian Journal, 
published in 1948. But the trip took place in spite 
of an accident. In the spring of 1947, the Stein- 
becks had had a piano moved into their house. It 
was lifted from the street to the second-story win- 
dow, from which a hip-high protective railing 
had been removed. This railing was replaced 
faultily, so that some time later when Steinbeck 
leaned on it, it gave way. He fell forward into the 
areaway, injuring his knee and foot seriously 
enough to be hospitalized for a period. 

He wrote the Wagner brothers: 

“I’m very tired of the hospital. I was lucky not to 
have broken my back. Little John is all well now and 
Thom is fine but will probably have mumps in a 
week. He has been exposed. And I’ve never had 
them. That can be bad.” 

His apprehension was not borne out. A little later he 
wrote: 

“I’m pulling out for Paris tomorrow. Gwyn follows 
Tuesday. She’ll be back in 4 weeks but I’m going on 
to Russia for the Herald Tribune and won’t be back 
until the ist of October. Should be quite a trip and it 
will be good to get back to straight reporting. My 
knee is getting better all the time but I will be a 
number of months -with a cane.” 


297 



To Pascal Covici 


Kiev, Ukraine, U.S.S.R. 

August II [1947] 

Dear Pat: 

A short note anyway. We’ve been down here for a week and 
will stay until next Friday. It is beautiful country and a 
beautiful city but it was brutally, insanely destroyed by the 
Germans. The rebuilding goes on everywhere but under the 
great difficulty of no machinery yet. My note book is getting 
very full and Capa is taking very many pictures, many of 
them fine I think. These Ukrainians are hospitable people 
with a beautiful sense of humor. I am setting down whole 
conversations with farmers and working people for fear I 
might forget them. We are lucky to be able to come here. We 
have seen so many things. 


August 13 

Just came from a farm. Very good time and lots of informa- 
tion. We are the first foreigners who have been in the country 
here in many years. The children look at us in wonder for 
they have only heard of Americans and sometimes not too 
favorably. The farmers and working people are a pleasure to 
talk to and even the necessity of talking through interpreters 
does not eliminate the salt of their speech. 

Thank you so much for meeting Gwyn. She was really dead 
tired. Those flights are exhausting. I’ve only had one letter 
but there will probably be others waiting in Moscow. I try to 
cable now and then to relieve her mind. I have no news of 
America, and it is rather nice. I couldn’t change anything 
and it is good to be away from the turmoil for a little. Why 
don’t you drop me a note and let me know how things are 
going. Address c/o Joe Newman, Hotel Metropol, Moscow. 

Evening is coming now. We are going to a symphony con- 
cert in the park on the cliff above the Dnieper. Playing 
Brahms and Prokofiev. I have a dreadful time with the spell- 
ing of Russian names and my language is limited to about 10 
words, most of which have to do with drinking. 

298 



Please call Gwyn when you get this. I like her to hear from 
me as often as possible. 

The time won’t be very long until we will get home, only 
about six weeks. I’ll be glad of a few days in Prague. I have 
always wanted to see that city which I have heard is very 
beautiful. 

That’s all Pat. Do drop me a line. 

love 

John 


Joe Newman, mentioned above and in the following 
letter, was chief of the Herald Tribune bureau in 
Moscow. Steinbeck, with his taste for somewhat 
complicated nicknames, would shortly begin refer- 
ring to him as “Sweet Joe” Newman. He derived this 
from the Russian name Svetlana, soon metamor- 
phosed to “Sweet — ^lana,” then to “Sweet — ” anyone 
else. 


To Gwyndolyn Steinbeck 


Stalingrad, U.S.S.R. 

August 20 I1947] 

Dearest Doxie: 

We are at it again. Got in at two and had to get up at three. 

This town really destroyed, not by bombing but by shell fire 
and the houses pitted and carved by machine gun fire. Every 
single building is hit. Factories in ruins. This must have 
been the greatest fight of all time. The hotel is rebuilt and 
quite comfortable. This is the melon growing section. 

It seems to me that I’m going to be very tired of moving 
around by the time I get home. It will have been 3 months 
and a half living out of a suitcase. I’ll be ready to sit and work 


299 



or maybe just sit for a little. There will be a lot of impressions 
to get settled too. 

All hell has broken loose. I admit our Russian is limited, 
but we can say hello, come in, you are beautiful, oh no you 
don’t, and one which charms us but seems to have an ap- 
plication rarely needed: “The thumb is second cousin to the 
left foot.” We don’t use that one much. So in our pride we 
ordered for breakfast, an omelet, toast and coffee and what 
has just arrived is a tomato salad with onions, a dish of pick- 
les, a big slice of water melon and two bottles of cream soda. 
Something has slipped badly. Also an argument. Our room is 
full of flies — vicious nervous flies. The attendant called our 
attention sternly to the fact that the window was open and we 
retaliated with equal sternness that there is no glass in the 
window and to keep it closed has only theoretical value in 
keeping out flies. English is not spoken here. On arriving a 
young woman in the hotel said “good morning” with a 
beautiful accent which would have reassured us more if it 
had not been four o’clock in the afternoon. We have just 
ordered the vodka in place of the cream soda. If we get a 
cutlet we are not surprised. God! we got tea. 

Capa suggests that the reason there aren’t more flies is that 
they aren’t mass produced yet. At the end of the five year plan 
they will have many more. 

Love to you all and most to you my doxie 

John 


The next letter mentions what would appear five 
years later as East of Eden. Its original or working 
title was Salinas Valley. 


300 



To Webster F. Street 


[New York] 
November 17, 1947 

Dear Toby: 

I have a great deal of work to do this year and I would like 
to get it all done by this summer because then I would like 
to stop everything to do a long novel that I have been working 
on the notes of for a long time. It seems to me that for the last 
few years I have been working on bits and pieces of things 
without much continuity and I want to get back to a long slow 
piece of work. I need to go out there for a lot of research so 
I may be out in California this summer. I’d be glad if I could 
for a little while. I’m living too hectic a life but then so are 
you and so is everyone. 

Amazing that you should be a grandfather although I don’t 
know why it should be amazing. I could easily be if I had got 
to work earlier. My kids are thriving and are becoming very 
interesting to me now. The oldest one is beginning to reason 
and is lots of fun and the youngest who is a clown by nature 
is very gay. He may not have much brains but he is going to 
have a hell of a wonderful life if he keeps the disposition he 
has now. That’s about what it takes, a good disposition. I 
never had one and that is the reason for the kind of life I lead, 
I guess, although my disposition is better now than it ever 
was. 

I don’t think there is anything too difficult to understand 

about P . She is just a natural virgin who can’t grow up 

and never will. Such girls may be wonderful in the hay be- 
cause they put on an act but not every night and not for long, 
because the act gets tiresome to them. That is why natural 
spinsters make much better mistresses than wives. They 
don’t have to do it very often that way and so their interest 
is kept up not only by the rarity of the stuff but by the self- 
drama of the situation. 

I had a wonderful time in Paris. I had never been there you 
know, and I wish I had been there years ago. Gwyn didn’t like 
it terribly much but I did and I’m pretty sure I have not seen 


301 



the last of it. There is something there, there is really some- 
thing there. 

Winter is coming and that is the season I love in New York. 
I feel wonderful when it is cold. I guess I was never more 
healthy in my life than the winters I spent at Tahoe. I am just 
a cold weather kid and I am miserable in heat. 

Well anyway I may be coming out to see you before too 
long. I would like to. 1 would like to just sit with you for a few 
days without any rush. I don’t know what the hell I’m rush- 
ing about. There is some terrible kind of urgency on me and 
that is a bunch of nonsense. Maybe I’ll get over it when I get 
this deadline piece out of my system. I hate to write to dead- 
line but I have to on this. My typing never gets any better. I 
guess it is never going to get any better. That is one of the 
comforting things about the middle age I am in. Always 
before I could promise to reform and now I know I’m just 
never going to do it so I don’t bother. The only thing I can 
really do is work and I might as well face it. I don’t have any 
other gifts but I can work and if it doesn’t amount to a damn 
it was still hard work. 

Anyway I am going to plan within the next year to sit with 
you a while if you still want to. It wouldn’t be bad to take 
some kind of inventory— not that it will change anything 
because you aren’t ever going to change either and the joke 
is that if we had only known it, we never were from the very 
beginning. Maybe the self-kidding is part of the process. 
Maybe I couldn’t have stood myself as I am when I was 
younger and so had to make all the plans about changing. 

I guess that will be all now. I’ve got to get back to work. I 
have a hundred pages to get out before Thanksgiving. Christ, 
I remember when an eighteen-page story threw me for 
weeks. Maybe they were better then but I don’t even care 
about that. The hell with it. I’m doing the best I can with 
what I’ve got. 

So long and write more often. 

jn 


302 



To Paul Caswell 

EDITOR OF THE SAUNAS-CAUFORNIAN 


New York 
January 2, 1948 

Dear Mr. Caswell; 

I am gathering material for a novel, the setting of which 
is to be the region between San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz, 
particularly the Salinas valley; the time, between 1900 and 
the present. 

An exceedingly important part of the research necessary 
will involve the files of the Salinas papers; will it be possible 
for me to consult these files? Do you know what has hap- 
pened to the files of the Index-Journal and would it be possi- 
ble for you to arrange my access to them? 

I expect to be in Monterey soon after January 20th; could 
you let me know as soon as possible (by collect wire if neces- 
sary) if these files can be thrown open to me. 

I will very much appreciate your help in this project. 

Very truly yours 
John Steinbeck 


A week later, Caswell replied by telegram; 

“you are welcome to saunas newspaper files.” 


303 


To Pascal Covici 


[Monterey] 
[February 1948] 

Dear Pat: 

Arrangements have finally been made for the photograph- 
ing of the Salinas papers which will give me as fine a refer- 
ence library on the daily history of a community as it is 
possible to have. The oblique information in these old papers 
is enormous in addition to the direct information. I have now 
checked the stories of old timers against the reports of the 
papers of the time, and I find that old timers are almost 
invariably wrong not only in their information but in their 
attitudes. Time is the most violent changer of people. 

I’ve been into the river beds now and on the mountains and 
I’ve walked through the fields and picked the little plants. In 
other words I have done just exactly what I came out here to 
do. What will come out of it I don’t know but I do know that 
it will be long. There is so much, so very much. I’ve got to 
make it good, hell. I’ve got to make it unique. I’m afraid I will 
have to build a whole new kind of expression for it. And 
maybe go nuts doing it — and pay the price for doing it and 
climb on it and tromp on it and get my nose rubbed in it. I 
hope I have the energy to do it and without accidents I think 
I have. The yellow pads will catch hell for the next few years 
and nobody better try to rush me because I will not rush this 
one. I’ll make a living at something else while I am doing it. 
But it’s the whole nasty bloody lovely history of the world, 
that’s what it is with no boundaries except my own inabili- 
ties. So there. 

The country is drying up as badly as the time I wrote about 
it in To A God Unknown. It is the same kind of drought that 
used to keep us broke all the time when I was growing up. 

I guess that is all. I just wanted to send you a report. 

John 


304 


About this time, he wrote Annie Laurie Williams: 

“Have been going around the country getting reac- 
quainted with trees and bushes. On a low tide I went 
collecting in the early morning. 

“Well, it is time for me to get out in the wind and 
look at the grass which is coming up on the hill. 
That’s what I am out here for.” 

To Pascal Covici, he wrote: 

“All goes well here. I am getting a superb rest. The 
rain is over and the hills are turning green. I sleep 
about twelve hours every night and then go out and 
look at bushes. 

“I have been seeing people I haven’t seen for years. 
Things do not change so much. People erode and 
there are some new buildings, but on the whole 
there is not much of a change. And the hills don’t 
change. This is sea monster time. One has been re- 
ported in the Bay again. I would like to see him 
myself some time. Lots of people have seen him.” 

A letter to Paul Caswell shows the kind of details he 
was interested in from the files: 

“. . . the front pages and a selection from the rest of 
the paper: for instance, the editorials on subjects of 
either momentary or permanent interest, advertis- 
ing of foods, clothing, at intervals of, say, every six 
months. Personals and back page country news.” 


To Bo Beskow 


[Monterey] 
February 12 [1948] 

Dear Bo: 

You haven’t heard from me because I have been resting. I 
had got pretty badly knotted up with the tiredness but that 
seems to be dropping away. I have a room in a cottage court 


305 



and I like it very well. I’m seeing old friends and drinking an 
occasional toast and going into the hills and looking at 
bushes and trees and things like that. 

We had a very large Christmas and the kids got too many 
toys, most of which were put away for a little slower issue. 
There were so many things given them that they were only 
confused. I don’t like this lushness. I am looking forward to 
the time when Thom can travel with me, and that won’t be 
so very long. 

The Russian pieces in the papers were very successful 
here. I don’t know what the book will do. The Russians have 
been doing such bad things lately with their art stultifica- 
tions and their silly attacks on musicians and the decree 
about no Russian being allowed to speak to foreigners that it 
makes me feel sad. It looks as though we were the last ones 
in for a very long time. Under the new decree we could not 
have spoken to any of the people we did. They have already 
destroyed all good or even interesting painting. There isn’t 
much of any good writing and now they knock over music. 
The stupid sons of bitches. I wonder whether there is any 
secret vsoriting or painting being done. It would surprise me 
if a few creative individuals weren’t practising in cellars. 
And the small Russian people are such nice people. 

It is barely possible that I may be in England for a little 
while this summer but not absolutely sure. I would like to sit 
still for a while but I’m restless you know and sitting still is 
only an ideal like celibacy and complete cleanliness. 

I’m back with my own kind of people here now, the bums 
and drinkers and no goods and it is a fine thing. 

I’m glad you had Christmas with your kids. I miss mine 
quite a lot. They are funny little bugs. And there’s something 
terribly sad about them to me. They are such determined 
little humans with their chins down, living like the devil as 
hard as they can. 

A few of my nieces now in college came down for a vaca- 
tion from the university. They are very pretty girls and they 
seem to have so much more sense than girls did when I was 
that age. I enjoyed them no end and they liked me because 
I don’t try any of the elder statesman stuff on them. It is a 
strange but genuine friendship. 

I think through fatigue and other things I have been down 
near to the insanity level lately and it is odd how I can feel 
the tensions roll away from me. I sleep about twelve hours 

306 



every night and every night it is better, the sleep better and 
more restful. It is truly a good medicine, something I guess 
like your trips to the south. One of the best things is being 
alone. 

Give my unrequited love to the beautiful blonde girls in 
the Swedish Airlines offices, such lovely sweet-smelling 
girls. 



To Gwyndolyn Steinbeck 


[Monterey] 
February 17 [1948] 

Dear Honey: 

Tuesday already. Again last night to bed at ten. Now quite 
early morning. Cloudy and likely to rain. This is the driest 
year anybody ever remembers. Yesterday was like a spring 
day. I went to Salinas and worked at the paper and then 
drove out toward the hills and found the old stage road which 
I haven’t been over since I was about ten years old and we 
went to Hollister that way in the surrey. Went over it to San 
Juan and do you know there were hundreds of places that I 
remembered. Kids do retain all right. Stopped in San Juan a 
while and then drove back over the old San Juan Grade 
which in the memory of most people is the only one. They 
have completely forgotten that which was once called the 
Royal Road and it is now just a country dirt road, which is 
what it always was, of course. Also working about getting the 
film made of the paper for later study. This is going to be 
fairly expensive but it is clearly deductible so it doesn’t mat- 
ter. 

No word from you so I guess you are all right. 

The enclosed is a letter Ed and I wrote to Stanford Press the 
other night. This new edition of Between Pacific Tides has 
been dawdling for two years. Thought you might enjoy the 
letter. 


307 



This is the letter to Stanford University Press, writ- 
ten on Pacific Biological Laboratories stationery: 


“Gentlemen: 

May we withdraw certain selected parts of Be- 
tween Pacific Tides which with the passing years 
badly need revision? Science advances but Stanford 
Press does not. 

There is the problem also of the impending New 
Ice Age. 

Sometime in the near future we should like to 
place our order for one (i) copy of the forthcoming 
(1948, no doubt) publication, The Internal Combus- 
tion Engine, Will it Work? 

Sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 
Ed Ricketts 

P. S. Good luck with A Brief Anatomy of the Turtle.” 


I am getting quite homesick. I miss you very much. But 
more and more I see that this book is the book and it has to 
be done by me. It may be my swan song but it certainly will 
be the largest and most important work I have or maybe will 
do. That’s why I don’t want to slip up on it in any way. I want 
all my material to be right and correct. Fortunately for me 
the owner of the Salinas paper is a foreigner, a good newspa- 
per man from New York State and a man who knows what 
I am trying to do. I am told that a little quiver of terror has 
crept through old Salinas at the project. I am on no punitive 
expedition. I just want it straight. 

I have a whole life and adventures in Salinas all of which 
are new to me. It would be fun to collect them sometime. 
They are old timers’ stories by now. There is one by a grocer 
about how I engineered the complete cleaning out of his 
store. Actually I was a very law abiding little boy. 

Also I find that the adventures of Max [Wagner] and John 
Murphy have all been moved over to me, even the throwing 
of the roast of beef through the glass door at City Hall. They 
worked so hard and I get all the credit. I have become a giant 
kind of half criminal, half ape over there. It works all over. 
Jack [Wagner] told me that it is told as truth in Cuernavaca 
by the waiters at the Marik that I was taken to jail there after 
a fight, but that it took fourteen policemen to do it and the 

308 



blood flowed in the streets. What chance has any true history 
if this is the way people remember things? 

Well that is about all. Let me know whether the valentine 
ever got there. 

love 

John 


To Edward F. Ricketts 


[New York] 
[April 1948] 

Dear Ed: 

I am practicing for the novel very hard and I think I am 
getting some place. I do not want to start it until I am pretty 
sure that I have what I want in style and method but I am 
gradually getting through to the light. It is going to be bitterly 
resented by critics and the reader starting it may have some 
kind of hard going until he gets used to it but I do think that 
once he does, most other things might seem a little pale and 
bloodless. Anyway I am excited by the experiment. 

It will be a hell of a long experiment though, nearly half 
a million words and by far the most ambitious book I have 
ever attempted. God help us all, we go on trying to climb that 
miserable mountain and it is always higher than the last rise 
we scrabbled onto. It seems to me that I have more than I can 
do and it frightens me sometimes until I think how it would 
be if I had less than I can do. 

The circus in Madison Square Garden is sold out for the 
whole season. I want to take Thom. It will be the first circus 
when he is old enough and he is at the time now when it can 
be pure dream material. But there are no tickets. I am mov- 
ing heaven and earth to try to get them for Saturday. 

Next Tuesday I shall go into the hospital and have the 
varicosities in my legs removed. I will have to be in the 
hospital for a week because it is a large job and they don’t 
want any of the ties to break loose. I should have had it done 
years ago but now finally I will complete it. The legs are not 


309 



at all painful but I am told that the burst places are a lovely 
play ground for potential embolisms. 

so long now 

jn 


To Bo Beskow 


Bedford Hotel 
New York 
April 29, 1948 

Dear Bo: 

I am just sprung from the hospital yesterday. And I am 
very weak. Didn’t realize how weak I was nor how doped I 
had been in the hospital. I guess it is a very great shock to the 
system to have all those veins removed. It took the surgeon 
four hours to do it and I was very tired before he was through. 
But it is all over now and although the stitches are still in my 
legs I shall be all right in a couple of weeks. But I can’t do 
much of any walking before then. I have to sleep in my office 
now because I can’t climb stairs yet. My office is a hotel room 
at this above address but it has an elevator so I stay the nights 
here until we are all in order. I have a tank of tropical fish 
here which amuse me very much and rest me too. Their 
movement is very fine. 

You are right. I am on my marathon book, which is called 
Salinas Valley. It is what I have been practicing to write all 
of my life. Everything else has been training. I feel that I am 
about ready to write it. It will take maybe three years to write 
and it is going to be the best that I have learned and a lot that 
I have never even indicated. It is rather like your [stained 
glass] windows. I wouldn’t care if it took all of the rest of my 
life if I got it done. It is going to take enormous energy. 

I am doing something which is secret but I will tell you 
about it. I am trying to buy or lease the old home ranch about 
which the Red Pony and many of my stories were written. 
My family sold it long ago to a man who is very old now and 
who is very rich. So I wrote to him. I haven’t told Gwyn 

310 



anything about this. I don’t know whether she would approve 
or not. She loves New York and she says she will never leave 
it but I have to have something too. And the boys should have 
a chance to find out what they would like. Also the things 
they can get from the country now they will never be able to 
get again. So that is my secret. 

1 wouldn’t fix the old house up at all, not even put in elec- 
tricity. It would just be a place to go to and to get refreshed. 
I know it is necessary to me because before I went into this 
health thing 1 was very close to a crack-up. I was warned that 
I was by a very good neurosurgeon here and it wasn’t just an 
opinion. That danger is over now, I am pretty sure, but I 
would love to have the old place to go to for a few months of 
the year and let the boys find out about animals and horses 
and grass and smells besides carbon monoxide. 

I do not want to run it as a ranch. Just to go to live in the 
old house and to walk in the night and hear the coyotes 
howl and the roosters and to see the rabbits sitting along 
the brush line in the morning sun. I don’t know whether it 
will work out but that is what 1 am trying. And if you ever 
mention it in a letter you had better send that letter to this 
address. I get most of my mail here anyway. Of course it is 
very possible that the old man will have no part of it. I 
would like to write parts of my book out there if I could, 
though it doesn’t matter at all where I write it. Down in a 
manhole if necessary. 

I guess that is all for now. 1 will write more often 1 think 
now. So long. 

John 


May II, 1948 , marked the first of two blows that would 
end a period of Steinbeck’s life and change its 
course. On that date, at dusk, not far from the Pacific 
Biological Laboratories that had been both a kind of 
refuge and a house of learning for Steinbeck, his 
good friend Ed Ricketts, driving across the Southern 
Pacific tracks, was struck by the evening train from 
San Francisco. Steinbeck rushed to California. Rick- 
etts lingered for three days and died. Ten days later. 



Steinbeck had returned to New York. As he wrote 
Paul Caswell on May 20; 

“Things have changed since 1 was out there and this 
death of Ed Ricketts changes them even more. For 
the next few months I will be unable to do anything 
about anything.” 


To Bo Beskow 


Hotel Bedford 
New York 
May 22, 1948 

Dear Bo: 

I got back from Monterey to find your letter. You see, Ed 
Ricketts’ car was hit by a train and after fighting for his life 
for three days he died, and there died the greatest man I have 
known and the best teacher. It is going to take a long time to 
reorganize my thinking and my planning without him. It is 
good that he was killed during the very best time of his life 
with his work at its peak and with the best girl he ever had. 
I am extremely glad for that. He had just finished a plankton 
paper that was masterly. I will over the next few years, if I 
am able, edit his journals for the last fifteen years which 
contain his observations in every field. It is very important 
thinking to my mind. 

Naturally this changes all of my plans about the summer 
and about nearly everything except my big book. You are 
right in your intuitions about the office and the ranch. There 
is nothing to do but to sit it out and that I will do, but mean- 
while, if I possibly can, I will get the ranch to fall back into. 
As to the immediate future, I don’t know. I may do a picture 
of the life of Emiliano Zapata if I can find someone to do it 
honestly. The great danger of Zanuck is that he writes and 
he can’t but he thinks he can. I don’t mean Zanuck, of course, 
I mean Selznick. They all sound alike. But Zanuck did a good 
picture for me in the Grapes of Wrath and Milestone did a 
good one in both the Mice and Men and the Red Pony. The 

312 



last has not been released. The Pearl is a pretty good picture 
but I could not protect its pace. It is a little slow. I will send 
you a copy of the book in the next day or so. It has line 
drawings by Orozco. Many people do not like them but I do 
and it is the only book he has ever consented to illustrate and 
that to me is a very great compliment. 

I thought for a day or so that I would run to Sweden to lick 
my wound and that might be a good thing too but that 
wouldn’t be good for you and in the second place I have too 
much to do. There are certain responsibilities here that I 
can’t shake off. 

I haven’t asked about your girl because I thought you did 
not want to talk about her. I have thought that men and 
women should never come together except in bed. There is 
the only place where their natural hatred of each other is not 
so apparent. Many animals from deer to dogs have no associ- 
ation between the male and the female except in the rutting 
season or the heat of the female. In this way they may be very 
biologically wise because the warfare between the una- 
roused male and female is constant and ferocious. Each 
blames the other for his loss of soul. 

One pays for everything, the trick is not to pay too much of 
anything for anything. That was Ed Ricketts’ discovery and 
he practiced it. He did not pay too much for a clean floor or 
for family or for luxuries which did not give him a really 
luxurious feeling. Many people disapproved of this and en- 
vied him at the same time. I among them because I am pay- 
ing much too much for everything. You remember the peo- 
ple who bought real gold watches at country fairs and found 
that they were not only not gold but had no works either. This 
is quite a common thing in all directions. 

Letters from me turn into long things. The book will be 
written. I have to get over a number of shocks but it will be 
written all right and good or bad at that. I have had the death 
feeling very strongly for some time now as you know but 
maybe this was it. I am capable sometimes of horrifying 
clairvoyances. They come out of the air. My mother had the 
second sight and so has one of my sisters, and I seem to have 
it a little. But I don’t have the death feeling now. I know that 
my book has to be written, and for many reasons. 

Well, I will be writing to you often now. There are times of 
verbosity and times of silence. And I may try to fill up one 
lack with you and you must not mind that. Whenever I 


313 



thought of a good thought or picture — I wondered what Ed 
would think of it and how would he criticize it? The need is 
there. Maybe you who have taken part of that will have to 
take all of it now, at least for a while. 

Let me ask you to answer to the address on this paper. 
Because my intellectual life is here now. 

So long for now. 

Jn 


To Webster F. Street 


New York 
May 25, 1948 

Dear Toby; 

You are not the most episcotory thing in the world these 
days but I hope you will be able to bring me from time to time 
some kind of progress report of what happens out there. As 
you know Ed was very close to me and meant very much to 
me. I liked him and I would have done anything in the world 
for him and when ever it was possible I did what I could. The 
laboratory without Ed is just a run down piece of real estate 
and any attempt to maintain it or hold it together is either a 
piece of morbid wishful thinking or an attempt to use the 
place simply as a place to live. 

Now, there is something else that I want you to look into. 
I loaned Ed a thousand dollars very recently. I have his corre- 
spondence on it and he was to have signed a note for it as he 
indicates in his letters. This thousand was to be his share of 
the expenses for the book we were going to do together. That 
I will have to get back some how. He may have spent it on 
other things. I know he was pretty strapped and that his beer 
bill alone was more than he was making. 

In spite of what people generally consider, I do not have 
any money. I have no savings at all and the last couple of 
years I have joined the great majority and gone into debt at 
tax time. I spend on trips and things like that only such 
things as are clearly and legally deductible in the carrying 

314 



out of my writing. What I am getting down to is that the 
money must be returned because I haven’t got it and I will 
have to borrow it next year to pay my taxes and pay interest 
on it. This is what 1 wanted to tell you. 

I think you know that I put a high value on friendship. I 
have been kicked in the behind quite a bit on this account 
and that is perfectly all right and I would do it again but 
there are a number of reasons why I have to toughen up. I 
have a long book to write, a three year job. There are other 
situations arising which I will not go into now but that is the 
one firm and unalterable thing I have. That god damned 
book is going to get written. I’m forty-six now and if I am 
going to be a writer I’d better god damned well get to it. I’ve 
piddled away a great deal of my time and 1 haven’t an aw- 
fully lot left. I don’t think you can find anybody in my ac- 
quaintance to whom I have not loaned money and that is all 
right but now I need help in the way of indulgence and sup- 
port and I am asking for the kind of support I have given to 
everyone else. Jim Brady used to say that it was fun to pay off 
if you could afford it, and so it is but I can’t afford it any more. 
I’ve got trouble coming and bad trouble and I have the book 
to write and I am going to have to have at least the spiritual 
support of my friends if I have any. 

affectionately 

John 


Steinbeck was later to write, in “About Ed Ricketts”: 

“We worked and thought together very closely for a 
number of years so that I grew to depend on his 
knowledge and on his patience in research. And 
then I went away to another part of the country but 
it didn’t make any difference. Once a week or once 
a month would come a fine long letter so much in the 
style of his speech that I could hear his voice over 
the neat page full of small elite type. 

“Knowing Ed Ricketts was instant. After the first 
moment I knew him, and for the next eighteen years 
I knew him better than I knew anyone, and perhaps 


315 



I did not know him at all. Maybe it was that way 
with all his friends. He was different from anyone 
and yet so like that everyone found himself in Ed, 
and that might be one of the reasons his death had 
such an impact. It wasn’t Ed who had died but a 
large and important part of oneself.” 

Something of this feeling permeates the letter he 
wrote Ritchie and Tal Lovejoy, friends from the 
days of his first marriage. Tal [Natalya] was Russian 
and had been born in Sitka; Ritchie was a journalist. 


To Ritchie and Natalya Lovejoy 


New York 
May 27, 1948 

Dear Ritch and Tal: 

There’s been a lot of thinking to do. By some intelligence 
greater than our own, we were able to stay drunk enough or 
withdrawn enough during the immediate thing. But that 
comes to an end and I have been sitting alone in my hotel 
room for some days now. Impact is not sharp now — all dulled 
out. It would be interesting if we all flew apart now like an 
alarm clock when you pry off the mainspring with a screw 
driver. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Ed was us and that now 
there wasn’t any such thing or that he created out of his own 
mind something that went away with him. I’ve wondered a 
lot about that. How much was Ed and how much was me and 
which was which. 

And another strange thing, I have a great feeling of life 
again. It’s not the same but it is vital and violent. Almost as 
though I were growing new tissue. Do you feel that at all? 
There were times of cold terror about doing it alone but now 
the prop is out and I have a feeling that I can. It won’t be the 
same but it will be done. Do you feel that at all? You know 
how sometimes in candle light, the room darkens and then 
lights up again and seems to be brighter. It’s kind of like that. 
I haven’t yet got used to the unreality of this new reality but 
I am sure now it is going to be all right. I remember Ed’s 

316 



words for it even — “This species has experienced channels 
for all pain and all sorrow and all happiness possible. They 
are ready when they are needed.” 

Then there’s another thing. The rock has dropped in the 
water and the rings are going out and God knows where they 
will go or for how long or what patterns they will change 
obliquely. I have to tell this to someone and I guess you are 
the ones to tell. Nothing about me is the same. It is all 
changed. Tightening up now but in a different way. Almost 
a relief to be alone. As though some kind of conscience were 
removed and a fierceness I haven’t had for many years re- 
stored. I’m going to work now as I have never worked before, 
because for the time anyway, that’s all there is. 

I’ve been going back over everything. Surprising how 
many tiny things you can remember — gestures, attitudes, 
words, expressions and a million incidents. I have wanted to 
do them once and then put them away for good. And let go. 

Don’t tear yourselves to pieces so. That’s not good nor use- 
ful to anyone. 

Summer is coming. There’s heat in the air today. And I 
haven’t really anything to say, I know. 

So long 
John 


To Bo Beskow 


Bedford Hotel 
New York 
June 19, 1948 

Dear Bo; 

I had your cable and your good letter but they arrived 
while I was in Mexico. I am going to write a moving picture 
while I get on my feet. It is about one of the greatest men who 
ever lived. His name was Emiliano Zapata. It will be unbear- 
ably hard work and that will be a good thing. I have to do 
that. Gwyn is taking the children to California tonight to stay 
with her mother for a couple of months. I will stay here and 


317 



work. It would have been nice to go for a rest but I don’t think 
I could have stood it. After a while I will rest or maybe never. 
It doesn’t much matter. A certain amount of energy must be 
poured out from one fire or another and then it is done. This 
Zapata job is worth doing. It can be very fine. I sent you the 
Pearl recently. I hope it arrives. 

I am out of sadness and into fierceness now. That is natural 
to the organism that feels under attack I guess. 

I’m getting this off to you now but in a little while I will 
write you a long and detailed letter. 

So long and I wish I could have rested. 

John 


To Bo Beskow 


New York 
June 24 , 1948 

Dear Bo: 

I got back from Mexico last week. Went there to set up 
research on the life of Zapata which I want to do as a film. 
This will be very hard work and that is what I need. I should 
have it done by Christmas and it is a very large job. 

I haven’t really the slightest idea what is going to happen, 
Bo. I just have to wait and see. It is a highly complicated 
thing — as complicated as yours, only different in some ways 
and there are no exits. I guess you know how that might be. 
You will simply have to use intuition. There is no second 
person. In that respect it is unlike yours. The last 10 days I 
have been drinking too much — not drunk but drinking. That 
is about over now. It was kind of “between two things” drink- 
ing. This is not a sad letter and I don’t want it to sound that 
way. I may be a little vague, however — ^but I don’t think even 
that. Blood is flowing in my veins again instead of buttermilk. 

I wish I could have gone to Sweden but it was not in the 
cards. Resting I could not do. I need violent work, and violent 
play, and I am going to have both. 

Very strange thing — ^I had a kind of crack-up over the 
318 



weekend. It seems to be all over now but it was a little fright- 
ening. Got too tired I guess with too many things. Most things 
are going smoothly. Research is moving and the story line 
smoothing out. I have a way to beat the fatigue now which 
is to go into a closed room and shut the door for 24 hours. That 
seems to work. 

AfPectionately, 

John 


And now in mid- August he finally spoke of the sec- 
ond blow of 1948. He had been on the verge of identi- 
fying it, he had referred to it obliquely, he had put 
it off, avoided it, hinted at it since May. 


To Bo Beskow 


58 West 58th Street 
New York 
August 16, 1948 

Dear Bo; 

After over four years of bitter unhappiness Gwyn has de- 
cided that she wants a divorce, so that is that. It is an old story 
of female frustration. She wants something I can’t give her 
so she must go on looking. And maybe she will never find out 
that no one can give it to her. But that is her business now. 
She has cut me off completely. She feels much relieved now 
that she has done it and may even be a good friend to me. She 
will take the children, at least for the time being. And I will 
go back to Monterey to try to get rested and to get the smell 
of my own country again. She did one kind thing. She killed 
my love of her with little cruelties so there is not much shock 
in all of this. And I will come back. I’m pretty sure I have 
some material left. But I have to rest like an old dog fox 


319 



panting beside a stream. I have great sadness but no anger. 
In Pacific Grove I have the little cottage my father built and 
I will live and work in it for a while. Maybe I’ll come to see 
you next winter and we’ll “sing sad stories of the death of 
kings” — with herring. 

I suppose Gwyn will quarrel over property settlement but 
she will have to quarrel with lawyers. It is very strange. She 
did it, wanted it, is upset by it. She will have to have a lot of 
money until she remarries or makes some other arrange- 
ment. It doesn’t matter. I really need very little. It is amazing 
how little I do need. 

I don’t know whether I ever told you about my little house 
in Pacific Grove. My father built it before I was born. It has 
only three rooms and a little garden. But it’s a pleasant little 
house with big trees and I think I will go back to it. Carol and 
I lived in it for years. I don’t for a moment think I will be 
unrestless there but I’ll be restless and lonely anywhere. But 
at least it will be a place for the transition time and a place 
to work and I can always leave it. I’ll try to get to Sweden 
maybe next spring or maybe for Christmas. That will be a 
bad time for me this year and maybe we could raise a little 
hell to cover up. You see I really do not have any plans. It’s 
all mixed up. 

I’ll close now and write again when I am a little more 
settled. I’m pretty much bruised now. 

Affectionately, 

John 


To Webster F. Street 


[New York] 
[August 17, 1948] 

Dear Toby: 

This letter is privileged material— all of it. After four years 
of bitter unhappiness, Gwyn has decided that she wants a 
divorce. I am inhibiting her and she can’t stand me. Now that 
she has decided, she seems much relieved. There need be no 


320 



trouble and I can try to build back some of the things that 
have been torn out of me. This will be a clean one, I think. 
She will take the children, at least for a while. All of this, 
however, will be arranged. 

I have a little life yet to lead. I’m pretty banged up. In fact 
I have been for quite a long time as you know. I’ve got to build 
back and at the same time I have a lot of work to do. I think 
I will go back to Monterey to do it — not out of nostalgia but 
simply because I think I can get rested there. I would like to 
have my cottage back. 

I’m not rushing but sometime soon after the first I will 
probably be out to see you. 

I have a feeling I can get some rest and simplicity in that 
house. And maybe just fixing the garden up will be good for 
me. 

Please let me hear from you as soon as you can at the 
address on this envelope. We’ll have some good times yet. 

Affectionately, 

John 

Please don’t mention any of this. Maybe we can keep this 
clean. Gwyn wants to also. 


To Bo Beskow 


New York 
August 1948 

Dear Bo: 

Since I wrote a day or so ago I have been thinking and 
thinking in circles, and it comes out the same. I’ll go home 
for a while and then to Mexico for the picture, and then I 
would like to spend Christmas with you. And then it should 
be time for me to start on my long book and maybe a little 
ease may have set in. Only one thing — ^by my settlement I am 
going to be very broke for a very long time and that may limit 
my movements to some extent. 


321 



Fm trying to shake the first gloom. There’s no good in being 
sad. I must be careful about not going out with any women 
until after the settlement is signed. Have been singularly 
unguilty in this and I don’t want to spoil it now. You probably 
know about our crazy divorce laws. They don’t make any 
sense. 

Now it is the next day and this is a dawdling letter. Today 
my son Thom visited me and in the afternoon we went toy 
shopping and it was fine. I shall miss him very much because 
now he is becoming good company. Am more cheerful today. 
Went to look at rehearsals of a new musical comedy. Did 
some work and went out to dinner with a very pretty girl. And 
found I could be interested — ^which is fine. I’m fairly defi- 
nitely decided on California now. I think it will be good. Life 
Magazine has a large coverage in pictures of Sweden in mid- 
summer and it reminded me so of the summer — long ago — 
when Carol and I were there. 

And then I remembered that Carol was always angry at me 
too. I think now I will try to have no more wives. I’m not good 
for them and they are not good for me. If I marry again I will 
be really asking for trouble. The difficulty of course is that I 
like women. It is only wives I am in trouble with. We’ll yet 
have some fun with our lives. I’m just now beginning to 
believe that for the first time in many months — even years. 
It’s like a little tingle up the spine. I think I didn’t know how 
heavy the weight was. And the possibility of its being lifted 
is just now apparent. 

There’s the end of a long dull letter. 

Affectionately, 

John 


322 


To Webster F. Street 


[New York] 
August 32 , 1948 

Dear Toby: 

No answer from you yet and there is no reason for writing 
this except that for the first time in years I have time for 
writing letters and for thinking and for reading. It is rather 
remarkable. I had almost forgotten. My plans haven’t 
changed. I’ll call you when I get in. 

I am more relaxed than I have been in a very long time. I’ve 
been fighting off this separation for a long time, holding it 
back with all my strength. And now that I have lost — I have 
the first sense of rest for a very long time. Even some energy 
and some fierceness coming back. That is all to the good I 
think. Maybe a new start. I must admit I am a little along into 
middle age for new starts but I don’t feel so. It will be good 
to be absolutely alone for a while. I’ll get things sorted out 
and back to sources again. 

Maybe you and I will have some good times again. There’s 
no reason why not. This city has never been good for me. I 
have been doing a routine that is foreign to me. That doesn’t 
mean I won’t come back and enjoy it but I won’t be living 
here. I think I won’t live anywhere — really. You know six 
months has usually been the limit before I get restless. And 
now there is no reason why I shouldn’t move when I get 
restless. And I darn well will. 

I imagine the separation agreement will be signed next 
week. Gwyn will get most everything of course. And I will be 
pretty broke for a while but in a few years I imagine I can 
build up some kind of reserve again. And I really do not need 
much money. It has only done bad things for me. My tastes 
have not become more complicated than they were. Trans- 
portation, food, shelter and sex. And all of them can be very 
simple. 

Of course you know I am just writing to see the ink run out. 
Except for work I am going to live from day to day if I can. 

323 



And I think I can. There isn’t any other way for me. 
I’ll be seeing you. 


John 


“She will go to Nevada,” he continued to Toby Street 
a few days later, “and I will not appear unless she 
should violate the settlement, in which case I would 
fight the divorce. It is to be an incompatibility 
charge or I won’t play. I haven’t been guilty of any- 
thing. 

“It is complicated and I don’t know all of it. Gwyn 
was being robbed of something. I think she has 
enough talent to make her nervous and not enough 
energy to do anything about it.” 


To Webster F, Street 


[New York] 
[August 27, 1948] 

Dear Toby: 

Yesterday we signed the separation agreement and as 
usual my wife gets about everything I have. My nerves 
are pretty good. In the thick of this they got pretty bad. 
We will think quite a bit about this Fallen Leaf [at Lake Ta- 
hoe] business. It sounds mighty good. Can very possibly 
do it. 

Neale, my fine man, is driving my car out. He will get there 
about the nth. He is a good man and will keep me fed and 
washed and clean. I’ve had him quite a long time. Ex-navy 
C.P.O., colored and very intelligent, excellent driver, cook, 
valet and damn good friend. He will stay with me as long as 
he wants to. 

There is only one thing that makes Gwyn unhappy. She 

324 



has nothing to blame me for so she can feel superior. If I 
were any kind of gentleman I would give her some public 
thing to hate so she could feel justified in doing what she has 
done. I’m son of a bitch enough not to do it. 

I am very anxious to get to the cool coast. This god damned 
climate drives me crazy. The utter insanity of living in a 
place like this doesn’t occur to the 9,000,000 people who in- 
habit New York. Except for visits I think I shall not be here 
any more as a resident. But one should do everything I guess. 
And I’ve done nearly everything except contentment. I’m 
really looking forward to quiet and some peace. I want to 
walk some, particularly at night. 

So long. See you soon. 

John 


325 




one finds it- 
therb is qp ijeed 
for words.” 



Elected to American Academy of Arts and Letters, 
Divorced from Gwyndolyn Steinbeck, 


Film of The Red Pony released. Returned to the East 
Coast 


In 1959, looking back on this period of his return to 
California in September, John Steinbeck wrote: 

“The little Pacific Grove house is many things to me 
but its last patina is of the wild and violent heart- 
broken time after Gwyn, which stays with me like 
the memory of a nightmare. I don’t think I will ever 
get over that.” 



Pascal Covici 


Pacific Grove 
[September 1948] 

Dear Pat — 

The thing makes a full circle with 20 years inside of it. 
Amazing, isn’t it? And what wonderful years and sad ending 
ones. I am back in the little house. It hasn’t changed and I 
wonder how much I have. For two days I have been cutting 
the lower limbs off the pine trees to let some light into the 
garden so that I can raise some flowers. Lots of red gerani- 
ums and fuchsias. The fireplace still burns. I will be painting 
the house for a long time I guess. And all of it seems good. 

There are moments of panic but those are natural I sup- 
pose. And then sometimes it seems to me that nothing what- 
ever has happened. As though it was the time even before 
Carol. Tonight the damp fog is down and you can feel it on 
your face. I can hear the bell buoy off the point. The only 
proof of course will be whether I can work— whether there 
is any life in me. I think there is but that doesn’t mean any- 


329 



thing until it gets rolling. Women I will have to have of 
course, only I wonder if I have learned to keep them in their 
place. They have a way of sprawling all over and that I can’t 
have any more. I haven’t enough time and I couldn’t take 
another sequence like the last two. 

Anyway this is just a note to tell you I’m in a new shell or 
an old one, like a hermit crab and the ink is now out of two 
of my pens and this is the last one. I have no more ink in the 
house tonight. I’ll keep you posted. 

Affectionately 
(and write to me) 
John 


To Pascal Covici 


Pacific Grove 
September 12 [1948] 

Dear Pat; 

It is night and the low fog is down and the buoy is bellow- 
ing off the reef and it is very fine. I have a good fire going and 
no one is likely to come over tonight. I’m getting rested and 
working hard outside too. This whole place is a mess but in 
two weeks you won’t know it. Garden will be cleaned and 
replanted and the house will be painted inside and out. And 
during that time I do not intend to touch a pen to manuscript. 
My hands are getting calluses already. I don’t know many 
people here any more and that is a good thing. It will be more 
time for working and reading. Oddly enough I do not feel 
lonely at all yet. I know I will soon enough. I know it will 
come like little fingers of ice but not so far except once or 
twice a kind of blind panic. However, that is perfectly natu- 
ral and would happen to anyone. 

This house is also almost completely without furniture. 
Various non-rent paying tenants have seen to that. I don’t 
need very much but some I guess I must have. I have a bed 
(new) my old work chairs and a card table to write on and 


330 



that is all I actually need. It will cost something to paint this 
house but that will be all right too. I have to buy everything 
for it — even pots and pans and knives and forks but Wool- 
worth still lives, thank God. I remember how Carol used to 
be afraid I would get loose in Woolworth’s with five hot dol- 
lars in my pocket. It was a nightmare thought to her. She 
never got used to it. 

This garden needs peat moss and fertilizer and needs it 
badly and it is going to get it too. It is going to be a very pretty 
garden if I can make it so. It is getting late now. I’ve kind of 
nodded away the evening. And I have to get up early tomor- 
row because then the work starts. But I wanted to get a note 
off to you. 

bye 

John' 


To Bo Beskow 


Pacific Grove 
September 19, 1948 

Dear Bo: 

I am sorry I have not answered your two letters before. 
This is the little town I came out of and it is very good to be 
back in it. The ocean is only two hundred yards away and it 
is very fine. Even though the house is torn up with repairs 
and paint I have a sense of peace here and the horrors of the 
last few years seem (for the moment at least) remote. How 
long it will last I do not know, but it is like a strong curative 
medicine now. I have trimmed the trees and replanted the 
garden and the house is to be repainted inside and out and 
a new matting laid down. Very good. I think maybe like your 
place in the south of Sweden. I know I have to go back to 
Mexico in a little over a month but it will be here that I will 
return. 

One of the best things is being alone. I had almost for- 
gotten how nice that can be. And there is a thing of fixing 


331 



over a house, not for someone else but for myself. I 
haven’t done that since before I married Carol. There is 
almost an aching selfishness about that. I even have a 
small sense of sin about it. The picture placed is the one I 
want. The colors are the ones I want, the chairs are for 
me to be comfortable. I eat at any time of day or night 
and never chicken which I detest and learned to eat be- 
cause both of my wives liked it. When my pants are hot, I 
go out and get a girl when I want her and if that one is 
not available another one is. This may seem sad to you 
that I discover such things as though they were new in 
the world but so they seem to me. 

There will be only one test of this and that is whether any 
good work comes out of it. I am not going to touch paper for 
several weeks yet. I want this damp sea fog to get deeply into 
me and the fine wind over the kelp on the rocks. It is only now 
after a rest that I see how I have been used but it is all right 
now that it is over. I don’t care if I never have any money 
again. It didn’t ever give me any peace or satisfaction. And 
I need very little here. 

But it will all boil down to work. If I can write again then 
I can be happy again. I know I will put off doing it for fear 
it has all been drained out of me, although I don’t for a 
moment believe that. Indeed, I feel the stirring of some 
power. 

This is going to be my home from now on. I do not mean 
I will not go away from it because I know my restlessness, but 
there has to be a seed-center, an anlage from which other 
things grow. It is a little shingled house of three rooms with 
a little rock garden. It has very little money value and that 
is the way I want to keep it. 

Gwyn has gone to Reno to get a divorce (her freedom 
she calls it). She gets everything because I don’t want any- 
thing. I can have the children in the summers and I do 
want them. And I think I will get them. She will have 
worked out a perfect justification. She will never be to 
blame for anything in her life. I think I knew this all 
along but I would not let myself know it. Only now do I 
permit it to be seen. This is a long letter, completely taken 
up with myself. I will write another soon which will not 
be so egocentric. But I am a little amazed at myself and I 
am trying to set it down. I will write soon and do you also. 


332 



I would love to see your new windows. And I will before 
too long. 

Affectionately, 

John 


This therue of his own refusal to be aware of what 
had happened around him is echoed in a letter to 
Covici: 

“Fm afraid I built a person who wasn’t there. Fll tell 
you about that some day. Not wanting to know, I 
didn’t know.” 

His day-to-day confidant through this period con- 
tinued to be Pascal Covici 


To Pascal Covici 


[Pacific Grove] 
[September 19, 1948] 

Dear Pat: 

You are right — I do get the horrors every now and then. 
Comes on like a cold wind. There it is, just a matter of weath- 
ering it. Alcohol doesn’t help that a bit. I usually go into the 
garden and work hard. 

At that moment Ritch and Tal Lovejoy came in for a cup 
of coffee and then I watered the garden and here it is dusk. 
A very quiet Sunday and Fve enjoyed it. My hands are liter- 
ally tired from moving rocks. And it is a fine feeling. 

It has been one of the dark days that I like very well — 
overcast and almost cold except that flowers like it and 
seem to be on fire in such a light. I think flowers’ 
colors are brighter here than any place on earth and I 
don’t know whether it is the light that makes them seem 


333 



so or whether they really are. 

I debated strongly about whether to dress and go out to 
dinner or whether to cook something and stay home in quiet 
and determined on the latter. 

So I’ll close and I will send you more reports. 


October i8 

Dear Pat: 

I got to reading Auden’s introduction to the Greek portable 
and it is very fine. He is such a good writer. Have you read 
Lady Godiva and Master Tom by Raoul Faure? A really blis- 
tering study of a woman. 

I shall be going to Los Angeles with Kazan about the first 
of November and to Mexico soon after. Probably be gone for 
about a month. 


Elia Kazan, the theatre and film director, was to be 
closely involved in the creation of Viva Zapata! 

I have not worked on The Salinas Valley. I don’t want to 
now until everything is clear because I think I am about 
ready for it and I’m letting it stew. It would be bad if the 
whole conception turned out no good. But I’ll do it anyway. 
I am really looking forward to the doing of it, good or bad. 

I miss Ed and I don’t all at the same time. It is a thing that 
is closed — that might possibly have been closing anyway. 
Who can tell? Great changes everywhere and every which 
way. I still get the panic aloneness but I can work that out by 
thinking of what it is. And it is simply the breaking of a habit 
which was painful in itself but we hold onto habits even 
when we don’t like them. A very senseless species. There is 
no future in us I’m afraid. I can hear the music beginning to 
turn in my head. And by the time the spring comes I hope I 
will be turning with it like a slow and sluggish dervish or 
some mushroom Simon Stylites, a fungus on a stone pillar. 


Friday 

Dear Pat: 

The week I’ve put in planting— things I’ll probably never 
see flower — either because I won’t be here or I won’t be look- 


334 



ing. I have no sense of permanence. This is a way stopping- 
place, I think, as every other place is. I’ve made my tries at 
“places” and they don’t work. But this is a good way stopping- 
place and a good one to come back to— often. 

I awakened the other night with a great sense of change 
happening somewhere. Could not sleep any more and all 
night the sense of change, neither pleasant nor unpleasant 
but happening. It hung on for several days. Gradually my 
energy is coming back a little at a time. It is so strange that 
I could lose it so completely. One never knows what he will 
do ever. 

Just now the rain started, very gentle and good. I hope it 
rains a long time. There has not been enough. 

I’m sorry I was so closed in, in New York. But I realized 
more than any time in my whole life that there is nothing 
anyone can do. It’s something that has to be done alone. Even 
with women, and that’s good, there is largely no companion- 
ship except for a very little while. 

This has been a long bleak day. 


Saturday 

Curious sleepless night after a long time of over-sleeping. 
There was a great thunder and lightning storm in the night 
and rain fell. Maybe the changing pressure kept me awake. 
I know I’m very sensitive to changing pressures. 

Beth [his sister] is supposed to come down today. I hope she 
does. It is a long time since I have seen her. We have a lot to 
talk over. And she is usually so surrounded that there is no 
chance to see her alone. 


Monday 

This is turning into a diary. Beth did come down and I got 
to see her alone for the first time in a long time. She is well 
but of course is working too hard as always. 

This time I am going to send this 

love 

John 


335 



The tone— but not the content — changes with other 
correspondents. 


To Nunnally Johnson 


POSTCARD 


Pacific Grove 
[1948] 

Dear Nunnally — : 

Your forwarded letter has arrived and I thank you for your 
spiritual succour spelled any way I wish. Your firm position 
behind husbands could mean a sense of guilt also but who 
cares. 

It is possible that I shall leave my cave and bear skin here 
for the gilded haunts of beauty namely H’wood, natcherly. I 
have no longer your telephone number and so I cannot call 
you. But I will try to sneak up on you some how. 

I find myself in a curiously original position, namely with 
a spanked bottom and in a state of original desuetude. Dames 
and me don’t get along and they always win. 


love (phooey) 
John Steinbeck 


To Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Henry Jackson 


Pacific Grove 
October 26, 1948 

Dear Joe and Charlotte: 

I have been meaning to write for a long time but house 
fixing has interfered. Strange thing, Joe — ^tonight I couldn’t 
sleep and I wrote a little story that was so evil, so completely 
336 



evil that when I finished it I burned it. It was effective, horri- 
bly effective. It would have made anyone who read it com- 
pletely miserable. I don’t mind evil if anything else is accom- 
plished but this was unqualifiedly murderous and terrible. I 
wonder where it came from. It just seemed to creep in from 
under the door. I suppose the best thing was to write it and 
the next was to burn it. 

It’s getting cold so early. There is a nasty light of tomorrow 
coming through the blinds. 

The wind is ashore tonight and 1 can hear the sea lions and 
the surf and the whistling buoy and the bell buoy at Point Joe 
and China Point respectively. China Point is now called Ca- 
brillo Point. Phooey — any fool knows it was China Point until 
certain foreigners became enamored of our almost non- 
existent history. Cabrillo may or may not have first sighted 
this point, but them Chinks raised hell on it for fifty years, 
yes, and even buried their people there until the meat fell off 
and they could ship them cheaper to China. Mary and I used 
to watch them dig up the skeletons and we stole the punks 
and paper flowers off the new graves too. I used to like that 
graveyard. It was so rocky that some of the bodies had to be 
slipped in almost horizontally under the big rocks. And it has 
just occurred to me that I’m a talkative bastard. So I’ll clip off 
the qualifying adjectives and relax in the now. 

love to you both 

John 


I’ve lost your home address. 


As the divorce became final the “diary” to Pascal 
Covici resumed. 


337 



To Pascal Covici 


[Pacific Grove] 
November i [1948] 

Dear Pat: 

Well that is over. Thanks for your letters. They helped. I’m 
leaving for Hollywood tomorrow and for Mexico on Friday. 
I’m pretty much relaxed, I think, things have been about as 
disgusting and nasty as they can get and they didn’t kill me. 
I wish I could thoroughly believe that this is to be a new leaf. 
I wish I could be sure I have learned something. I am not sure 
of either. But I can try. At least if I try it again there will be 
a shudder of apprehension. 

Gwyn once told me she could do anything and I would 
come crawling back. At the time I was very much in love 
with her but even then I told her not to depend on it. A 
woman holds dreadful power over a man who is in love with 
her but she should realize that the quality and force of his 
love is the index of his potential contempt and hatred. And 
nearly no women or men realize that. We will not mention 
this again in a post-mortem sense. Only if it becomes active 
will it be necessary. I think I am getting strength back — 
perhaps more than I have had in 17 years and perhaps more 
than I ever had. I want the hot words to come out again and 
hiss on the paper and I think they may. My needs are filled. 

I hope you will write to me. I thank you for the fine bale of 
yellow pads. I shall make good use of them, I hope. And on 
your next trip out here I will get you drunk on red wine and 
music and the old ghosts we have neglected will walk again 
and wail on the wet rocks. This is a time of change and 
maybe of destruction, but the waves and the tide will not 
change, no matter how much we blast or are blasted. The 
black roots of the little species may put out new leaves. It is 
about time. There has been nothing erected for a long time. 
Matter is creative, that we have known and studied, but we 
have forgotten that the grey lobes in the head are creative too 
— the only and unique creative thing in the whole world of 
our seeing and hearing and touching. 

338 



A lot of high flown language but let it flow. Never again 
does it have to stoop to critics, or friends or lovers. It can be 
as good or as silly as it can be, not wise and smart and little. 

And that’s all for now. I will write to you from Mexico. I’m 
working on the life of a very great man but primarily a man. 
It would be good to study him closely. His life had a rare 
series — beginning, middle and end, and most lives dribble 
away like piss in the dust. 

I’ll be talking to you soon. 


Mildred Lyman, of the McIntosh and Otis office, 
visited Steinbeck just before he left for Mexico, and 
wrote a worried letter to Annie Laurie Williams: 

“He is deeply disturbed and frightened about his 
work. If it doesn’t go well in Mexico I honestly don’t 
know what will happen. The fact that so much time 
has elapsed without his accomplishing anything to 
speak of worries him a great deal. He has a defense 
mechanism which is constantly in action and it is 
hard to get behind that. What John needs more than 
anything right now is discipline. I’m afraid that he 
wanted to get to Mexico for reasons other than writ- 
ing. I heard quite a bit while I was with him about 
the gal, and I don’t think that bodes any good. She’s 
a tramp. He writes tons and tons of letters late at 
night. He is in a strange mood and has very peculiar 
ideas of women these days. He eats at odd hours and 
not properly, stays up late and sleeps late and tries 
so hard to convince himself that he likes it. He talks 
about not liking to eat lunch or dinner until he feels 
like it but I noticed that whenever we went out for 
either meal he ate like a farmhand and enjoyed it. 
I presume he will come out of it but my only hope is 
that it will not be too late as far as his work is con- 
cerned.” 


November [14, 1948] 

Dear Pat: 

I came back. Mexico was not right, not good, now. I have 
to learn in unintelligent ways. I’m breaking certain chains. 
Maybe they will come right back. I don’t know. But I’m home 
again — at least until restlessness gets me again. No plans 
except work — I’m so far behind, Pat. The sickness has been 
worse than I have been able to admit even to myself. Must be 
getting better because now I am beginning to be able to see 


339 



that it was there at all. At my advanced age I have to go back 
to some kind of childhood and learn all over again. This is 
ridiculous. Telling doesn’t make it intelligible, I guess. 


Monday 

Dear Pat: 

Just a note tonight. I’m going to work pretty soon. Working 
at night is good here. It is very quiet and it keeps me from 
going out and it leaves me a good part of the day to work in 
the garden — enough exercise to keep my bowels turning 
over. 

Very brilliant and cold weather — the sun like metal and a 
fine chill in the air at night. We will have a very wet year 
later I think. I hope. 

You must not worry about me. I am all right. This is the 
worst season and I am still all right and it will get less bad. 
That anyone can depend on. That’s the law. 

My house is now completed but there are the usual million 
things to be done in the garden. That always is there to work 
in. I’m going to trim my trees even more tomorrow to let more 
light in toward the ground so my flowers will be very early. 
And I have built a little potting shed with plastic on wire over 
it so I can force the little plants to start particularly early. 
There has been very much done here and now I can take it 
more slowly. I have no desire to rush anything. 

Affectionately, 

John 


340 



To Bo Beskow 


Pacific Grove 
November 19, 1948 

Dear Bo: 

Your long letter came a couple of days ago and I have 
waited until tonight to answer it. I wanted not to be inter- 
rupted once I started with it. My little house is now done and 
I am very glad to be in it. 

I shall have my boys in the summer and I want to arrange 
my work so that I can devote all of my time to them. I shall 
rent a boat and we will look at the little animals on the shore 
and I will let them look through microscopes, and we may 
even go camping in the mountains. They will either sleep in 
a tent or I will build a little bunk house for them in the 
garden. I thoroughly believe I will have them all the time 
before too long, but now that I can see them for only two 
months out of the year I want to make the most out of it, for 
myself mostly, although I think I can show them a new world 
quite different from the streets of New York where their 
mother insists on living. I mi^ the boys pretty much, par- 
ticularly the older one who was beginning to think and judge 
and criticize. 

As for the rest I think I am fine. I have moments of rage but 
less and less often and it will soon fade into a memory of 
nightmare. It will be all right and I am at peace, without 
hatred and completely without longing. This is a stranger 
and the one I loved is dead and released and I released from 
her. This is not the protest that confesses the opposite. It is 
as near as I can judge my own feeling, and you know I would 
try to tell you the truth. Since we went apart I have known 
a great many women, perhaps fifty, not in boasting or re- 
venge, but because the sexual energy which was dammed up 
while I waited and waited for Gwyn to be well again, (I 
thought she was ill and so did she) this energy was suddenly 
released and a satyric pulse overcame me so that I longed for 
women and I still do and I have them in great joy and exuber- 
ance. There is only one symptom of scar. I cannot sleep in the 


341 



same bed with them. If I try to my skin itches and if I go to 
sleep I have nightmares. I have become selfish in many little 
ways. I have a little gnawing of unknown fear sometimes 
and at others an utter and grey despair falls on me like a 
cloth. But mostly I feel well and strong (maybe you will know 
what this is), curiously full of dignity and sense of myself 
and a good myself. 

In the morning I awaken to see the sun on my little garden 
and a flood of joy comes over me — such a thing I have not felt 
for many years. My material for the Zapata script is all col- 
lected now and next Monday I will go to work on it with great 
energy, for I have great energy again. Whether there is any 
talent left I do not know nor care very much. But the churn- 
ing joy in the guts that to me is the physical symptom of 
creation is there again. 

I shall not be to see you this winter. This divorce has left 
me 30,000 dollars short in my tax money and I must work. I 
still have Gwyn and the children to support. I don’t care 
about her but I want the children well cared for. At first I 
wanted to kill some one or be killed, even to the extent of 
walking alone at night in Mexico with a bare machete in my 
hand but the challenge did not work. I was avoided like the 
mad dog I guess I was. And that is all over now and a soft 
benevolence is on me. And that is all of that now of me. 

I did not know that the glass path was still under your feet. 
I thought that was all over. It is not fine to see two people 
determined to destroy each other. What guilt do you two 
carry and why can’t you confess it in the dark and unload the 
torture and the hatred, because you do hate each other. A 
priest or a psychiatrist might do it if you cannot whisper your 
true grief into the ground. Or maybe you have learned to love 
pain. This is far from unusual. Pain is exciting whether with 
whips or with little sharp pointed thoughts barbed and poi- 
soned. I have forgotten what it is like to love a woman. It is 
very strange. It is like forgetting pain or hunger. Desire I 
have in great and all-directional abundance, even a fine 
goat-like lust — ^but love — the softening — ^the compassionate 
thing I don’t have now. I think it will come back and surely 
I will welcome it back. I suspect that some internal healing 
is going on. I would hate to be closed up and withdrawn — 
even unconsciously. 

I do not think now I will remarry. I think I am not good at 
it. I want more children but it doesn’t seem necessary to 

342 



marry to have them. Two women were turned to hatred and 
pain by marriage with me. And both of them would probably 
have been happy mistresses. 

I have so much work to do. As soon as my Zapata script is 
finished I shall get to the large book of my life — The Salinas 
Valley. I don’t care how long it takes. It will be nearly three 
quarters of a million words or about twice as long as the 
Grapes of Wrath. And after that I have five plays to write. 
And after that I should like to do one more film — the life of 
Christ from the four Gospels — adding and subtracting noth- 
ing. But that is for the future — maybe six years. I am so glad 
your windows progress and are satisfying. And I will be glad 
to get into my big train of a book. My blood bubbles when I 
think of that and I get a feeling like silent weeping. All the 
passion that has been drained off into neurotic and jealous 
women is now back and whole and ready to use for what it 
was conditioned to be. 

My little garden, like yours, is a thing to go out to look 
at every morning. Some new god damned little leaf is 
there or a flower is curling. And the great war against 
snails and varmints, which are only less destructive and 
poisonous than us, goes on ceaselessly, I kill them and 
stomp on them — an enemy — and I admire them quite a lot 
too because they can’t poison or stomp me and yet they 
keep ahead of me. These things I can love. And I think I 
could love a European woman or a negress or a Chinese 
but the breed of American woman — part man, part politi- 
cian — ^they have the minds of whores and the vaginas of 
Presbyterians. They are trained by their mothers in a con- 
tempt for men and so they compete with men and when 
they don’t win, they whimper and go to psychoanalysts. 
The American girl makes a servant of her husband and 
then finds him contemptible for being a servant. Ameri- 
can married life is the doormat to the whore house. Even- 
tually they will succeed in creating a race of homosexu- 
als. And they will not be content with that. I am just 
beginning to see our mores objectively and I do not like 
what I see and I do not want my boys brought up by them. 
The impulse of the American woman to geld her husband 
and castrate her sons is very strong. This feeling has been 
brought home to me by Mexican women who are quite 
content to be women and who are good at it as opposed to 
ours who try to be men and aren’t good at it at all. Well, I 


343 



guess I wasn’t a man or I wouldn’t have put up with it. 
But I am a man now and I don’t think I will surrender 
that nice state. I like it and the others can lump it. I hope 
this does not sound like bitterness because it is not. It is 
anything else. So long — Write 

John 


On November 23, The American Academy of Arts 
and Letters had written to inform Steinbeck that he 
had been “duly elected a member.” 


To The American Academy 
of Arts and Letters 


Pacific Grove 
December 3, 1948 

My dear Mr. Brooks: 

I am extremely sensible of the honor paid me by the 
Academy in making me a member. Having been black- 
balled from everything from the Boy Scouts to the United 
States Army, this election is not only a great experience but 
for me a unique one. My most profound thanks. 

Yours sincerely, 
John Steinbeck 


344 



At the end of November he had written Covici: 

“I did Thanksgiving very well but Xmas I will not 
try. I will get a gallon of wine and the prettiest girl 
I can find and I will forget Christmas this year.” 


To Bo Beskow 


[Pacific Grove] 
December 28, 1948 

Dear Bo: 

I had your good cable and thank you for it. I should have 
gone to spend Christmas with you but I am too broke. Christ- 
mas eve was a lonely bad time. It won’t ever be that bad 
again. I feel that I am missing something rich and valuable 
in the growing of my children. It doesn’t really matter, I 
guess, but I do feel cheated of it. The script I have been 
working on went to pieces too. Partly because of Christmas 
and partly, I am convinced, because my eyes need attention. 
I think I need glasses for writing and reading. Many head- 
aches, nausea and other things could easily be eyestrain. 

Funny how I had to wear the hairshirt this year. But I was 
trying to remember old times. I have talked with Carol on the 
phone but have not seen her. She sounds the same and all 
right, but the same. 

An odd thing is that sadness does not necessarily become 
greater with age. I can remember desolating sadnesses when 
I was a child, worse probably than I have ever had since, 
because they came out of a black void and there was no 
reason for them that I could see. Things that were black were 
black indeed and things that were white were blinding. I do 
not believe now that the world is going to be destroyed by 
bombs or ideologies of any kind. The world has always been 
in process of decay and birth. 

I must finish my script and I would like to get a good start 
on my book. Maybe when that is started I will be able to do 
it anywhere and maybe Stockholm would be a good place to 
do some of it. Maybe down on your place in the south with 


345 



a fine warm blonde about. My love of woman flesh and feel 
does not diminish. It even grows as I know more about the 
general and am less blinded by the particular. It was in- 
dividuals who did the murdering, not the thing woman. I 
hope the good potters with red hearts had red wine and love 
this Christmas. And how I wish I could have been with all of 
you with a big pottery jar of wine and a plate of herring. 
What a nice thing is herring. I’ll finish this tomorrow. I seem 
to have a guest arriving (see above). 

Next day — I was right — ^it was a guest. This morning I 
made for me a momentous decision. I am going to spend the 
New Year in Los Angeles. I’ll go down tomorrow and come 
back on the second. It will be a change of pace. I will drink 
a lot and make love to very pretty women. I don’t care if they 
are not bright. They are very very pretty. And for a while I 
am going to be content with that. I will get this off now. The 
post office is going to hate all the stamps. It is more work 
cancelling them. 

So long for now. And a good year for both of us. 

Love to you all 
John 


To Pascal Covici 


[Pacific Grovel 
January 22 [1949] 

Dear Pat; 

I have my glasses now and print jumps out of the page at 
me. I only need them for reading and writing. And speaking 
of reading — ^there are some books I need Pat, to fill out my 
library. You see when I want to know something the local 
libraries either don’t have it or are closed. There is no partic- 
ular hurry and I don’t care whether the books are new or not 
but I need some volumes in medicine, a Grey’s Anatomy, 
fairly new edition, 2., a Pharmacopaea (can’t even spell it). 


346 



This should be a new one because of the many new drugs. 3., 
the best standard volume in Toxicology. In this field the en- 
cyclopedia is not of much value. My books are supposed to be 
on the way but of course I don’t know what she will let me 
have. I’ll fill in the gap when they arrive, but I won’t know 
until then. Also I will probably bring up most of the books 
from the lab which will make all in all quite a good reference 
library. These glasses are wonderful. It is a pleasure to write 
again and I was getting to dread every day’s stint. Maybe I 
can work again. I hope. I was getting deeply worried think- 
ing my will power was gone. 

Here then is a health report. I am only interested because 
I must be well to work. I am tough and mean after quite a 
house cleaning. My closets were full of dust, of little feats, of 
half felt emotions. If I am to be a son of a bitch, I’m going to 
be my own son of a bitch. I’ve kicked out the duty emotions. 
They will snap back of course but decreasingly. I get the 
despondencies still. But I have learned that if you are not 
right with a person, nothing can make you right and if you 
are right then nothing can make you wrong. There is some 
anger at me here because I no longer have the money to solve 
my friends’ difficulties. I stumbled on a phrase to take care 
of that situation: it is Fuck it! I have been the soft touch for 
too long. Still would be if I had it but I haven’t. And probably 
am never going to have again. 

Out of some kind of pride or weakness I have never wanted 
to accept anything. It gave me some self-indulging feeling to 
be the giver and not the receiver. It is going to be hard to 
learn to receive and to accept but I am going to learn. Thus 
when a girl in Mexico wanted to hustle for me, I wouldn’t let 
her. She would have had some good thing if I had let her 
walk the streets for me — some kind of fulfilling. 

It is a great fine storm in the air, wind and rain and fresh 
cold. It is my kind of weather and it gives me a good feeling. 
The rain is lashing the windows like whips and I have a good 
fire. Later a girl will come in and I still function well in that 
department. You can’t want more than that — a cold night 
and a warm girl. 

My Arabia Deserta was down at the office. I am so glad to 
have it. I think it is the greatest secular prose in English that 
I know. Doughty makes the language a great stone with de- 
signs of metal and outcroppings of preciousness, emerald 
and diamond and obsidian. It is good to have here to see what 


347 



can be done with the language. I do not think it was easy for 
him to write. No such sense of ease and flow ever came 
without great and tearing effort. 

I have some new snapshots of my children. I think I have 
located a boat for us to go cruising in. I told them we would 
sleep and cook our dinner on a boat and that seems to excite 
them very much just as it excites me still. What better thing 
is there than that? 

Pat I’m getting the old ecstasies back sometimes. Thinking 
about a boat made the hair rise on the back of my neck. You 
say a good piece of writing does that to you, a chacun son gout 
I guess. 

I went out to find little pine trees to plant about my house 
and they aren’t up yet. But some other things are. As soon as 
the rain stops I will take a shovel out and get some yerba 
buena and some wild iris for my garden. Yerba buena is a 
ground crawling mint from which the old ones used to make 
a curative tea. I remember drinking it when I was little. It is 
a stomachic and it smells wonderful when you crush it — a 
sweet but sharp odor that pierces way back of your nose 
cleanly. 

And this is the end. But I think you will agree that this 
propped up life is — ^what? I don’t know. It still has some savor 
and what more could I ask of it. Women are still beautiful 
and desirable and things smell good and sometimes the 
flame burns jumping the nerve ends like little boys jumping 
fences. 

So — 
love 
John 


348 


To Pascal Covici 


[Pacific Grove] 

[February 22, 1949] 
Washington’s Birthday 
and nearly mine 

Dear Pat: 

Here it is again, another year and the first one I haven’t 
dreaded for a long time. I just finished my day’s work. It is 
finally going like mad, or did I tell you that? And now that it 
is going I don’t think it will take long. And as always when 
I am working I am gay. I’m terribly gay. I’m even gay about 
what I’m going to tell you. And I want you to keep this to 
yourself. 

I’m asking Gwyn for my books. I asked for the anthologies, 
poetry, drama, classics etc. which I have collected over the 
years. Well I didn’t get them. I got an absolute minimum. I 
wish you would please get me, if you can, complete cata- 
logues of Everyman, Random House and the other libraries 
that do such things because I do want to replace the things 
I actually need for work. Isn’t it odd that having stripped me 
of everything else, she also retains the tools of the trade from 
which she is living? A very funny girl and I think she is 
headed for trouble— not from me. I did get the dictionary and 
the encyclopedia and a few others. 

I don’t know what has happened but the dams are burst. 
Work is pouring out of me. I guess maybe I am over the 
illness. Who knows? But at last there seems to be some open- 
ing at the end of the street. 

Please let me hear from you. And don’t tell any one about 
this book thing. I don’t want to fight with Gwyn unless the 
children are involved and sooner or later I think they will be. 

So long now 

aflfectionately 

John 


349 



To Elizabeth Bailey 


[Pacific Grove] 
March 19, 1949 

Dear Godmother: 

Thank you for your letter. The Academy business, unfortu- 
nately, does not impress me very much. It seems a little like 
a premature embalming job — a very empty thing. 

It is strange that you should have spoken of the children. 
I had just written them as your letter came in. I sent them a 
check for the circus in Madison Square Garden. It is very 
easy to dislike this wife but her only sin is that she doesn’t 
like me. And that is not such a bad one. She loves the chil- 
dren. I can’t blame her for the other because there are times 
when I don’t either. And even if she were bad, it would not 
be good to take the children. They will be with me this sum- 
mer and then I will try to make it good enough so they will 
want to come back and that is all I can do. I assure you that 
I have been over this problem more times than I can think. 

Very hard at work now which is a saving thing. It would 
be dreadful if I didn’t have work. 

The little house which you remember is very nice and 
pleasant. And you needn’t worry about anything. I will prob- 
ably try again. I would surely hate to “learn my lesson.” That 
would be ridiculous and self-limiting and besides I like 
pretty women too much. But maybe several are better than 
one. That is to be seen. 

Anyway, it was a very fine thing to hear from you. 

Love, 

John 


350 



To Gwyndolyn Steinbeck 


Pacific Grove 
May 3, 1949 

Mrs. Gwyndolyn C. Steinbeck 
175 East 78th Street 
New York 21 , New York 

Dear Gwyn: 

I am writing to inform you that, in accordance with our 
separation agreement, I will send for Thom and John during 
the first week of July, 1949, that is, between July ist and 8th. 
I will let you know a little later of the exact date and time, 
as these will depend upon my schedule, which is not entirely 
definite as yet, and upon the reservations which I can get. 
Thom and John will, of course, be accompanied by their 
nurse and I will keep them with me for the full period of 
sixty days and will arrange for their return to you at the end 
of that time. 

You said something to me about your leaving the house on 
the ist of July. If it will be any more convenient to you and 
you will let me know promptly, I will arrange to take the 
children beginning the last week in June. 

John 


To Bo Beskow 


Pacific Grove 
May 9 [1949] 

Dear Bo: 

It has been too long since I heard from you and I am wor- 
ried that you are not well or that some bad thing has hap- 
pened to you. I know that I have been very remiss about 


351 



w^:iting but I have had a lot of healing to do. Three weeks ago 
I had a compulsion to go to New York to see my children and 
I did so thinking I was more well than I was. It struck me 
hard, all of the unhappiness arose again but it will not be 
very long before I am back where I was so that will be all 
right. My boys were well and healthy. I shall have them with 
me this summer and get to know them again. 

Coming home wrote three short stories and I don’t know 
whether they are any good or not. It is long since I have 
worked in that form. I promptly tore up two of them because 
I am sure they were not very good and I don’t have to put up 
with my own mediocrity any more. I can afford to do just 
what I want to do now. I have arrived at that deep security 
which is born in a complete lack of any security and that is 
a very good thing. I have been seeing Carol quite often out 
here and we can enjoy each other now that she has no power 
to hurt nor to control. And I think she enjoys that too. I think 
that the responsibility of hurting was one she did not like but 
couldn’t help. 

New York nearly killed me after the months of quiet. I 
hope I will never try to get used to it again. It is no place for 
me to live. Of course I love the violence of it for a little while 
but not for very long. I get very tired of it now and begin soon 
to long for the deep quiet of this little town where some 
weeks I do not see any one at all. Tonight for example I have 
a little fire going and am playing some music that I like while 
I write this. 

One amusing thing about this free life is that everyone 
tries to get me married. It is almost as though they hated to 
see ease and wanted me to be magnificently trapped again so 
that I would not have this fine freedom. The papers and my 
friends and the dear wives of the community all conspire to 
get me tied up again. I will try to jump over the noose and 
walk around the pit. I must face it. I am not good at marriage. 
I find that I am a very good lover but a lousy husband and 
that is something I might as well accept since I do not think 
I will change at my time of life. 

How do your windows go? I should like to see them very 
much and maybe I will be able before too long. 

Your country woman [Ingrid Bergman] seems to be having 
a very good time for herself in Italy. I thought she was about 
to kick over the traces. She had ceased to be a person and had 


352 



become the small stockholder in a large corporation. I finally 
quarrelled with her for that reason. She could do nothing 
because too many people owned her. Now maybe she can be 
her own woman again and then I will be interested in her 
again. 

Do write to me Bo as soon as you can. I can think that 
perhaps you have and that I will no sooner get this posted 
than your letter will arrive. It is usually that way. But do keep 
in touch and do not believe the stories of my impending 
marriage. They aren’t true. 

Love to all there, 

red hearts and red wine. 

John 


The story he mentions was entitled “His Father” 
and sold to the Reader’s Digest. 


To Elizabeth Otis 


[Pacific Grove] 

May 23, 1949 

Dear Elizabeth; 

You know darned well you done good with the little four 
page story. What a price! It is next best to Air Wick. Very good 
news. 

In the same mail with your letter, one from Ralph Hender- 
son (Editor of Reader’s Digest) assuring me that they bought 
the story because they liked it and not because of my name. 
Apparently you cut them deeply by asking for money as well 
as the honor of being published. In the light of this $2,500 for 
four pages — do you remember when you worked for months 


353 




and finally got $90 for the longest story in the Red Pony series 
and forty for the shorter ones? I hardly made $1,000 on my 
first three novels. 

Thanks for your letter. Fm going to have some more little 
stories before long now. They are good practice in a form I 
have not used for a long time. 

Love, 

John 


To Bo Beskow 


Pacific Grove 
May 23, 1949 

Dear Bo: 

I’m glad you answered quickly. I was getting worried about 
you. And I am extremely glad about the girl in France. I am 
enjoying pretty women but I will try not to marry again. 

I have my boys the two months this summer and I am 
going to give them some manness— by that I mean they are 
going to help me do things, physical things, they are going to 
be let to wander if they want. They are going to eat when they 
are hungry and sleep when they are sleepy. As much as pos- 
sible they are going to be responsible for their own actions. 
They are going to associate with men and animals and they 
are going to be treated with respect — their ideas listened to 
and included. Maybe it is bad but it will give them some 
cushion against the winter and the Eton collars and showing 
off at parties. They can have hammers and nails and boxes 
to build with. Thom is old enough to take the dual control of 
an airplane so he can learn to fly as he learned to talk with 
an automatic reflex sense. And he can drive my jeep on coun- 
try roads. [Thom was four.] And in a very few years, if I can 
afford it, I’ll begin taking them to different places in the 
world, to Stockholm and to France and to Italy and Mexico. 

I am not going with whores. I like the women I associate 
with. It is just that there are several or perhaps more than 
several, but I like them very much. Three of them are lovely 


354 



and two are fun and two are intelligent— and any one of them 
would turn into a wife instantly, and that would be over— 
that is, all but one would. One is really a whore and she’s the 
sweetest and most ladylike of the lot. Strange things. 

Let me hear how you liked the windows in place. And keep 
in touch. 

John 


Steinbeck had invited a new friend, Ann Sothem, 
the film actress, to come from Los Angeles to the 
Monterey Peninsula for a visit over Memorial Day 
weekend. It was to prove a turning point in his life. 

Ann Sothern brought with her Elaine Scott, who 
would become the third and last Mrs. John Stein- 
beck. She was then the wife of the actor Zachary 
Scott. 

The visitors stayed at the Pine Inn in Carmel. From 
here, Steinbeck showed them Cannery Row and en- 
tertained them in his small house in nearby Pacific 
Grove. 

Louella Parsons, gossip columnist for the Hearst 
newspapers, heard about this visit and reported it on 
her weekly Sunday evening radio program. 


To Annie Laurie Williams 


Pacific Grove 
[Received June 7, 1949] 
Sunday 

Dear Annie Laurie: 

It is time for a letter to you. Not that anything has hap- 
pened but a weekly report is kind of indicated. I heard the 


355 



[Louella] Parsons thing tonight. My taking Annie Sothern to 
lunch a couple of times becomes a romance. Romances must 
be pretty attenuated in Hollywood. I like Annie. She’s a nice 
girl. And she was thoroughly chaperoned by Mrs. Zachary 
Scott which Parsons neglected to mention. As a matter of fact 
I kind of fell for the Scott girl. Who is she — do you know? I 
mean who was she? She was with the Theatre Guild. Can you 
give me a report on her? 

I had a long letter from Gadg [Kazan] before he left saying 
he would be back the end of summer and then we could go 
into a huddle on this script. Which is satisfactory to me. 

I have written Gwyn asking about her convenience about 
getting the boys out here but of course she has not answered. 
So if I do not hear by the end of next week I shall make my 
own plans without consulting her. I’ve tried to be decent. 

I bought a hut for the garden for the boys to play in. Neale 
and I spent today putting it up and I don’t think we have got 
it right yet. But it was fun. Today all gardening too, setting 
out little plants. I didn’t leave the house at all. 

Annie Sothern just called to ask if I was embarrassed by 
the Parsons thing and I had to tell her that I was only compli- 
mented. Now P. G. [Paulette Goddard] will call to rib me 
about it. 

I got a box of silly birthday toys off to John for his birthday 
which is the 12th. I wanted them to get there surely on time. 
Let me hear from you when you can. And try to find out 
something about Elaine Scott. She was with the Theatre 
Guild for a number of years but in what connection I don’t 
know, nor do I know what her name was but she is very 
attractive and very intelligent. 

Love to you both, 
John 


His interest in Elaine Scott was reciprocated. 

She was a Texan, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Wav- 
erly Anderson of Fort Worth; her father was a pio- 
neer in the Texas oil fields. While a student at the 
University of Texas, she had met and married an- 

356 



other undergraduate, Zachary Scott, son of a promi- 
nent physician of Austin, Texas. With Eli Wallach, 
Allen Ludden, and Brooks West, they were deeply 
involved in civic and university theatricals. After 
graduation, and with some financial assistance 
from their families, the Scotts moved to New York 
with their infant daughter Waverly to begin their 
careers in the professional theatre — he as an actor, 
she in casting and stage-management with the 
Theatre Guild. In the early forties, Warner Brothers 
offered Zachary Scott a contract, and they moved to 
California. By the time Elaine Scott met Steinbeck, 
a marriage that had survived the struggle to succeed 
in New York was faltering under the strains of pic- 
ture stardom in Hollywood. 

Less than a week after their meeting Steinbeck 
wrote her. 


To Elaine Scott 


[Pacific Grove] 
June 6 [1949] 

Dear Miss West Forty-seventh Street 
between Eighth and Ninth: 

Am a widower with 10,000 acres in Arizona and seven cows 
so if you can milk I will be glad to have you give up that tinsel 
life of debauchery and sin and come out to God’s country 
where we got purple sage. P. S. Can you bring a little sin and 
debauchery along? Y ou can get too much purple sage but you 
can only get just enough sin. 

I am really glad that you got some rest and that you feel 
somewhat restored. I guess it is that purple sage. I think I will 
try to bottle it. 

Annie Rooney [Ann Sothern] called to say that the skirts 
had arrived [Chinese men’s ceremonial skirts he had sent 
them as presents]. I would like one too but I ain’t pretty 
enough. This has been my tragedy— with the soul to wear a 
scarlet-lined opera cape and small sword I have the physical 
misfortune always to be handed a hod. I have never quite got 


357 




over this sadness. Let me know whether you want me to get 
another. I have been tempted to buy the whole stock because 
there will never be any more. The new regime is not going 
to approve of them I guess and they are unique as far as I 
know. 

I was sad when you two bugs went away. Now I haven’t 
even a half-assed reason for not working. 

I am told that darling Louella tagged Annie and me last 
night. This will henceforth be known as The Seven Days 
That Shook the Pine Inn. Running naked through the woods 
with flowers in your hair is against the law and I told you 
both but you wouldn’t listen. 

Sometime during the summer I will drift down your way. 


[Next day] 

Neale is flying a twin engine Cessna to New York on the 
15th. He’ll have a little vacation and bring back my kids on 
the ist. 

Love to you and Annie. 

J. 


To the novelist John O’Hara, who had just published 
A Rage to Live, he wrote, over a number of days, a 
wide-ranging letter, part of which is in interesting 
contrast to his earlier “Phalanx Theory.” 


358 



To John O’Hara 


[Pacific Grove] 
June 8, 1949 

Dear John: 

Your letter made me very happy. This is a time of most 
profound readjustments, emotional as well as in other direc- 
tions and the reassurance of a letter like yours cannot be 
overestimated. Everything dried up as it is bound to, and got 
out of drawing and with three more mixed metaphors I will 
have a literary boulliabaise, or how do you spell it. 

I am extremely anxious to read your new book. There are 
lots of reasons for this. I believe that your hatreds are distill- 
ing off and that your work is all ahead of you. Maybe the 
training in hatred in all of us is necessary. For hate is a 
completely self-conscious and personalized emotion and a 
deterrent to a clear view but it may be as necessary to devel- 
oping ability as the adjectives we later learn to eliminate. 
But we must first use the adjectives before we can know how 
to leave them out. 

I’ve had seven months of quiet out here to try to reduce the 
maelstrom to tea kettle size. For myself there are two things 
I cannot do without. Crudely stated they are work and 
women, and more gently — creative effort in all directions. 
Effort and love. Everything else I can do without but if those 
were effectively removed I would take a powder instantly. 

Being alone here has allowed me to think out lots of things. 
There is so much yapping in the world. The coyotes are at us 
all the time telling us what we are, what we should do and 
believe. The stinking little parasitic minds that fasten 
screaming on us like pilot fish that fasten on a shark, they 
contribute only drag. I think I believe one thing powerfully 
— that the only creative thing our species has is the individ- 
ual, lonely mind. Two people can create a child but I know 
of no other thing created by a group. The group ungoverned 
by individual thinking is a horrible destructive principle. 
The great change in the last 2,000 years was the Christian 
idea that the individual soul was very precious. Unless we 


359 



can" preserve and foster the principle of the preciousness of 
the individual mind, the world of men will either disinte- 
grate into a screaming chaos or will go into a grey slavery. 
And that fostering and preservation seem to me our greatest 
job. 

This will probably be a long and boring letter, but I need 
some one to talk to and good or bad for you, you are tagged. 

You see I worked last year but it was all experiment and 
notes. I’ve been practicing for a book for 35 years and this is 
it. I don’t see how it can be popular because I am inventing 
method and form and tone and context. And of course I am 
scared of it. It’s a cold lonely profession and this is the coldest 
and loneliest because this is all I can do, and when it is done 
I’ve either done it or I never had it to do. 

I’ve re-read your letter and this is another day. You know 
I was born without any sense of competition. Consequently 
I have never even wondered about the comparative standing 
of writers. I don’t understand that. Writing to me is a deeply 
personal, even a secret function and when the product is 
turned loose it is cut off from me and I have no sense of its 
being mine. It is like a woman trying to remember what 
child birth is like. She never can. 

Again I have re-read your letter. And you are quite right. 
A man is always married. I wonder though whether he can 
be married to the idea — with different people carrying the 
ball (oh Jesus!). I will know sometime maybe. Being married 
to me is a very hard thing. I am kind and loving and generous 
but there is always the rival (work) and to most women that 
is worse than another woman. They can kill or eliminate 
another woman but that rival they cannot even get close to 
no matter how you try to make them a part of it. And there’s 
the necessity for being alone — that must be dreadful to a 
wife. 

This maundering will probably go on for some time. 

Now it is even more days later. I thought, after I stopped 
writing the other day, regarding your words about a wife. 
And do you remember in the Mabinogion, the ancient Welsh 
story of the man who made a wife entirely of flowers? 

My boys will be with me in another two weeks and I will 
be glad. I deeply resent their growing and me not there to see. 
That is the only thing I resent now. The rest is all gone. But 

360 



imagine if you couldn’t see your daughter for months at a 
time when every day is a change and growth and fascination. 
I saw my oldest boy turn over on his back and discover the 
sky and in his look of wonderment I remembered when it 
happened to me and exactly how it was. 

That’s all now. But I would like and need to keep in touch. 

John 


Soon afterward, when Steinbeck went south to Los 
Angeles for several days of conferences in connec- 
tion with Viva Zapata!, he and Elaine Scott were 
able to see each other frequently. Their relationship 
developed with swift intensity, and it became clear 
that subterfuge would be necessary for a continuing 
correspondence once he returned to Pacific Grove. 
He arranged to write her in care of his friends, Max 
and Jack Wagner, at their Hollywood house where 
he had sent his first love letters to Gwyn Conger. He 
referred to this address thereafter as “the hollow 
oak.” For further protection, with his penchant for 
drama and intrigue, he addressed his letters to 
“Belle Hamilton.” The surname was his mother’s 
maiden name. 


To Elaine Scott 


[Pacific Grove] 
June 20-24, 1949] 
Monday 

Dear Belle: 

T his may seem very roundabout but sometimes that is the 
shortest way home. As you know, I have few if any complica- 
tions. But you do have. And there is no reason to be foolish. 
Maybe this method sounds silly to you but I assure you it 

361 



is not. You will just have to be and become Belle Hamilton 
— a separate personality. When you go east you will find an- 
other hollow oak tree and tell me that. So we will keep con- 
tact. Now — this oak tree is all right. Max is my oldest friend 
and even then he thinks you are Belle Hamilton. He knows 
there is some reason for the use of his address but he is too 
good a friend and too much a gentleman even to inquire 
what it is. But I will explain that when you call. I would like 
to see you solito when I go down this weekend but I will 
discuss that with you also when you call. If you could get free 
sometime perhaps Friday afternoon — I would start very 
early and get there in the morning. Then I could meet you at 
the 1401 N. El Centro address [the Wagners’] if that is conve- 
nient. And you would be completely protected. The hotels are 
not good. Too many people are interested in tagging me. And 
other friends than Max would be “interested.” Anyway it’s an 
idea. 

I will leave this letter and perhaps bring it down with me. 
Anyway you will be calling tomorrow. 


Tuesday 

The other parties on my line have been chattering so 
maybe you got a busy signal. I must go to the bank at two. I 
hope I don’t miss your call. 

Did I tell you I bought a cute little trailer house for the 
boys and their nurse to live in? I shall put it in the garden 
where the tent is and it will be their own. It is the cutest 
thing you ever saw. Looks Hke a house, not a trailer. It 
has two rooms, a little kitchen, a toilet, an ice box. It is 
completely furnished. And — as will have leaped to your 
agile mind — when the boys are not here, it could have 
other uses — couldn’t it, dear? 

It is ridiculous to sit here writing to you when I will be 
seeing you. But it won’t be the first ridiculous thing I have 
done. And God willing, it won’t be the last. 

It is brightly cold here — ^the way I like it — good sleeping. 
Could be good other things. 


Wednesday night 

Somewhere the signals are crossed. I have only been out to 
buy groceries and you have not called. And I recognized the 

362 



danger signals well enough not to try to call you. That I 
caught. It was in the air. 


Thursday night 

I’ve spent the afternoon pleasantly making you a little 
Celtic or Gaelic cross and it has been good to do. I will give 
it to you privately when I see you and it will be up to you to 
explain it. Maybe you saw it in a junk store and bought it. But 
the story of the wood is this and it is a long one. My grand- 
mother’s father went in the 40’s from Massachusetts to Pales- 
tine to convert the Jews to Christianity. He took his family, 
among them a very young girl — my grandmother. I don’t 
think he converted any but he did teach some of them princi- 
ples of agriculture. That was his pitch for sneaking religion 
in on them. They were living in Jerusalem when one night 
a great storm of wind and lightning arose and one of the 
ancient olives on the Mount of Olives blew down. We were 
always a family of looters. My great-grandfather cut a chunk 
out of the tree which was at least two thousand years old. 
Gradually it has been whittled away but there is still some 
of it left and we have always made little crosses for our 
children and for some others. Thus the Mother Superior in 
Salinas, who prayed me out of pneumonia, got one and she 
put it on her rosary, and because the wood is so old and dense 
and is always cool, she got to curing fever in children by 
putting the cool cross against their foreheads. I have made 
them for my children as my father made one for me. If there 
ever was a Gethsemane — the tree from which this wood was 
taken was there to witness it. I don’t know why I made a 
Celtic cross and inscribed it in Gaelic. Just felt like it I guess. 
Anyway, rough and crude as it is, it is for you and was made 
for you. And maybe you will one day have someone to give 
it to. Stranger things have happened. 


Later, for Elaine Scott’s sister, Jean Anderson Boone, 
he amplified his feeling about the crosses carved 
from this wood: 

“I believe that everyone needs something outside 
himself to cling to. Actually such a thing as I 
have in mind is not outside yourself but rather a 
physical symbol that you are all right inside your- 

363 



self. So I have made you this little cross to wear, 
to hold in your hand, to rub between your fingers 
and to feel against your cheek. I hope it can be 
that symbol of your own inner safety. The wood 
itself carries the strongest and dearest thing we 
know. It is older and greater than we are and yet 
we are a part of it. The making of it is a symbol 
of our love for you, and your association with it 
may be the promise from within yourself that 
what you want, with a good heart— you will have. 
You see — the cross, too, has an inner being which 
is idea and faith as well as an outer feeling which 
is texture and incredible age. We hope you will 
wear it in memory of what it has been and in 
confidence of what you will be.” 


It is very odd. I will have to pass you this letter like a 
conspirator and you will probably have to burn it. But maybe 
that is good. I nearly signed the cross Bricrin — who was the 
great troublemaker of Ulster because I guess I am a trou- 
blemaker but then in a burst of egotism I signed it 011 am. An 
ollam was the very highest class of the filid of old Ireland. 
The writers and poets had many classes but the ollam was 
the top. He had to know 350 stories of all kinds. And I think 
perhaps I do. 

Isn’t it silly to go on writing this way? But it is only nine 
o’clock. I have hardly been out of the yard since I have been 
home. I have taken great gulps of sleep and now I have no 
more need for it. I think if I am not sleepy at 12 or i or 2 1 will 
put my clothes in the car and drive south. It is pleasant to 
drive at night. And if I should get sleepy on the way I can 
sleep in the car or roll out the sleeping bag which I now carry 
always. It isn’t a Hemingway double, damn it. But I think two 
could fit in it if they were reasonably companionable. And 
luxury on luxury— recently I bought a rubber air mattress. 
My hip used to get pretty sore sometimes. I’m just rattling on. 
Almost as though I couldn’t stop. Like the crazy time of chil- 
dren it is. You know about dusk when they go mad and play 
harder and faster and in tighter circles until they cry or get 
the giggles and go to sleep. 

The night is so quiet here. You remember how it gets — so 
quiet that there is a little hum in your ears when you listen 
because there is nothing to hear. How very deep this is — 
listening for a sign, looking for omens. Everyone does it. 
Actually I guess it is a matter of taking one’s psychic pulse. 

364 



For if one feels good the omens are invariably favorable. And 
I feel good tonight. 

But I must make sure not to hurt Annie’s feelings. There 
is only one thing — she has a very strong feeling about prop- 
erty and 1 am never again going to be property. I’ve had that 
twice. Once I was property to be saved and hoarded and the 
second time I was property to be spent. I don’t want ever to 
be either kind again. Nor do I want to own anyone — nor any- 
thing to tell the truth. Now I have absolutely nothing but this 
little house. I like nice things but I don’t have to own them. 
I used to go to the Metropolitan Museum to see that fantastic 
little Greek horse and the Cellini cup, but I never wanted to 
own them. I was always glad they were there for me to see 
and not to have to protect them, guard them, insure them, 
will them. No — I like it the way it is. 

And I swear to God this is the last of this long and doleful 
screed. It will be a chore to read. My handwriting — never any 
bargain — changes at different hours of the day. 

So this is the end of this. I will slip it into your hot little 
hand. And from then on — it’s your ball — first down and ten 
yards to go — oops! penalty — 15 yards to go. 

love, 

Sam 


Shortly after Neale had flown the two Steinbeck 
boys from New York to California, Elaine Scott sug- 
gested the possibility of visiting him. By telephone, 
in the course of the following letter, arrangements 
were made for her to come to Del Monte Lodge at 
Pebble Beach with her friend Joan Crawford. 


365 



To Elaine Scott 


[Pacific Grove] 
July 10-18 [1949] 
Sunday 

Bellita: 

I will start this and only after tomorrow will I send it. For 
if you are coming I will hand it to you. 

I wish I knew what time you would be likely to call tomor- 
row. I — ^well, damn it, I will wait for it. The boys can just play 
in the street or Neale can take them someplace. I am a little 
razzledazzled with the crawling house but it is a healthy 
razzledazzle. 


Tuesday 

Jesus, I hope you do come up. I hope, j’espdre, Espero! 

I did a bad thing. The nurse just told me. John didn’t even 
have a cake on his birthday. Reason — he had a cold! If he had 
been dying in my house he would have had the biggest cake. 
It made me feel good in a nasty way. Soooo! Thom’s birthday 
is going to be THEIR birthday and I’m going to shoot the 
works. Big party. Two cakes. King’s birthday. You are invited 
— Aug. 2. Paper hats, snappers — outside barbecue. All hell 
breaking loose. 


Friday 

Did I tell you I had a letter from Trampoline? [This was the 
“Mexican hustler” previously referred to.] She says — “I am 
working for the Banco de Mexico. We carry gold and pesos 
— want some?” 


Saturday 

This is note passing time. Thom is lying down on my bed 
and taking what is called a rest. This is only slightly less 
active than football. We went in a boat all morning — ^with 

366 



Mr. T. as skipper. He is becoming unbearably nautical. If you 
are leaving about eight I will compute the time and may 
possibly just happen to be in the bar — ^beautifully dressed 
and smelling of cologne water. 

Am burned cardinal red from the water and with a little 
salt and rosemary could bring high prices as a steak. 

I’ll leave this open. Because there will probably be more 
note passing. But I think it would be pleasant if I were in the 
bar at the lodge just starting my second martini and discuss- 
ing nuclear physics with the bartender when you just hap- 
pened to drop in there. What do you think? 

Monologue from the tent. 

T: Did Willy go to heaven? [Willy was the dog.] 

Me: I guess so. 

T: I saw him in heaven. But where was God? 

Me: I don’t know. 

T: Did you ever see God? 

Me: Oh! yes — sometimes and often. 

T: What’s he look like? 

Me: You. 

T: Do dogs go to heaven? 

Me: I don’t know. 

T: Do they die like caterpillars and butterflies? 

Me: Yes. 

T: I guess the sky falls down on them. 

Me: That kind of describes it all right. 

T: When are you going to die? 

Me: I don’t know — sometime. 

T: Soon? 

Me: Maybe or maybe in a long time. 

T: When will you know? 

Me: Never. 

It’s a kind of sleeplike talk, almost rhythmic. And now he’s 
asleep. 


Monday 5:15 
(in the bar 
at Del Monte Lodge) 
My dear — this is about as complete a record as you could 
wish. Here I am dressed like a lily of the field — neither sow- 

367 



ing nor reaping but getting into a gibson and waiting for you. 
What a title. 

Also have worked up a fiesta for J. C. I hope she doesn’t try 
to live up to her initials. 

I hope you get here before I have too many gibsons. I’ve 
only had one so far but I’m a persevering rollo. But why? I 
just ate the onion out of the second gibson. 

5:30. New pencil. This writing is a nervous habit. I am very 
much excited — very much. 

5:35. You are late — Ardo! 


And after the visit: 


To Elaine Scott 


[Pacific Grove] 
July 23 [1949] 

My dear — 

Parting is not sweet sorrow to me but a dry panic. You were 
kind to wire — not that I was worried but because it is like a 
last touch and a reassurance. One begins to distrust so much 
good luck. Now — 8 in the evening and kids bedded down and 
read into the ground and I’m in the little house that has a 
perfume. And I have a nice weariness. Now I don’t mind 
sleeping but before I resented it. And I don’t really have any 
words to say. 

Good night darling. I’ll add tomorrow. So tired — and so 
properly. 

Thom told a fine fantastic story tonight. I hope I remember 
it. It was very intense. Had to do with a little boy who left his 
comic books on the floor and the mother came and got angry 

368 



and pulled down the house and the father came and hit her 
and beat her up and rats ran all over everything. He lost 
track of the little boy in his interest in the other gaudy de- 
tails. 

Again good night. 


Sunday morning 

Oh! honey — I feel sick. I guess maybe it is the subsurface 
panting because you are not here. 


Love — oh yes. 
Cincinnatus 


Steinbeck continued his habit of making almost 
daily entries to be mailed to Elaine Scott as they 
accumulated. They are presented here as the diary 
they actually were. 

In the following letter, and with some frequency 
thereafter, he mentions a bird-charm from Mexico 
in whose magic he professed to believe. He had 
made a leather-covered wooden box for it. He de- 
scribed it in greater detail years later to Elizabeth 
Otis: 

“The most potent [magic] I have is the Mexican 
humming bird in the tiny coffin. I still have it and it 
is still active. It has just about all the magic there is 
in the world. It is on the supply shelf of my work- 
room — a tiny black leather coffin. The witch doctor 
made it for me when we were shooting the Forgotten 
Village — a most potent affair.” 


369 



To Elaine Scott 


Pacific Grove 
[July 25, 1949] 

My dear — 

Monday evening: an enormous day. Kids had their enor- 
mousest day of play. They have dropped as though shot. 
Thom wanted to know where you had gone. I told him — 
home. “Isn’t this home?” he asked. And of course he is right. 

I do make so many mistakes. I don’t want to make them in 
this of ours. But with my long record of mistakes I suppose 
it is an impossible wish. I put a flower in on the bird to 
propitiate. This sounds as though I were abnormally super- 
stitious and I am to the extent that I believe that the things 
that happen under ladders and with open umbrellas in the 
house are the results of unconscious wishing and the 
propitiation is to the evil in one’s self. And God knows there 
is plenty of it in everyone — dark mean imps that make us do 
things we don’t want to do. 

I was very ill yesterday — sickness used every means it 
could — symptoms of a cold, stomach ache, even bleeding 
pains in the chest. The works, and all of it the bad child 
stamping its foot because it could not have what it wanted 
when it wanted. So I spanked it soundly and it gave up and 
today I am more calm and the aches are gone except the 
lonely ones — ^but they are honest and not roundabout. 

I shall not try to tell you anything. That has all been told, 
both ways and instantly and I remember the telling and 
hearing like phrases now on one instrument and now on 
another, sometimes like the notes of high humming insects 
and sometimes like the breathless beating of copper kettle 
drums. And there it is. But I am jealous of your time. 


Now, referring to the Scotts’ imminent departure for 
New York, where Zachary Scott was to make a pic- 
ture, he mentions the need for a mailing address 
there. 


370 



If your eastern oak is not there I shall work one out. But let 
me know and I think it might be better if you kept this name. 

I shall send this on Wednesday. Do you know when a plane 
flew over today I was four feet off the ground following it? 
Must watch that. 

One fault of such closeness is that words no longer convey 
much. Before — ^words can stimulate the senses and the un- 
derstanding but after — they are pretty weak vehicles. Where- 
for words are properly the tools of loneliness and rarely of 
fulfillment — the conveying of loss and frustration but no tri- 
umph like the closing of fingers on fingers or the pressure of 
knee on knee or the secret touching of feet under a table. Do 
you realize that language reaches its greatest height in sor- 
row and in despair — Petrarca for Laura, the Black Marigold. 
The fierce despair of Satan in Paradise Lost. L’ Allegro is not 
nearly the poem II Penseroso is. I suppose that what the 
human soul says is — “If one finds it — there is no need for 
words.” 

I want to send you some records. How can I do this? Shall 
I send them in care of Jack [Wagner]? They are the record- 
ings of Monteverdi — ^These have some of the passion in mu- 
sic that the Black Marigolds have in words. 

I think I may take the children to Berkeley this next week- 
end to see my sister Beth. I wish you knew her. She is very 
homely and I have seen her draw people to her and not know 
what she was doing. She has an incredible charm and an 
unbelievable energy. 

Cathy and Walter [the nurse and her husband] took the kids 
for a ride after dinner and it is nine and they aren’t back yet. 
Ed Ricketts used to do that when his children were restless 
—just put them in the car and drive. The vibration and mo- 
tion soothed them and made them sleep so well. They will 
have to be carried to bed when they get back. And I’ll wait 
here before I go over to my house. 

Oh! and I have a present I want to get for you one day but 
it will take a very long time. But all good things do take a long 
time. The engagement ring my father bought for my mother, 
a good quarter of a carat, took him several years to pay for. 
But when he had done that he had something. I suppose that 
one of the troubles with having money is that beautiful 
things are available without effort and so the things have not 
the same value. I suppose nothing in the world was ever so 
valuable as that quarter carat diamond. 


371 



Words are not good to me tonight. They come out crooked 
and I have little faith in them. Sometimes they are much 
better — and once in a while they are born with small blue 
bows on them. 

Wheel I’m up late tonight. It is midnight. For a while I 
thought I might go out but gave that up because where would 
I go? 

Going to bed now darling. Neale changed the sheets, damn 
him. Some time with sleep — ^huh? That’s the only thing we’ve 
not had — sleep and breakfast. 

Night dear. 


July 28 

Thursday afternoon 

My pretty quadroon — 

Kids are bedded for the moment and I use the word ad- 
visedly. What a strange night was last night. I could not 
sleep, the kids had nightmares and today they are looking far 
inside and they are far away. I thought it might be a change 
of pressure because the air is strange and the sea is unusual 
but the barometer has not changed. Maybe an earthquake 
coming. I’ve felt them before. Animals are a little nuts too. 
Something about to happen. I wonder what. I have the ex- 
cited feeling of a storm. Something has changed of course — 
something I didn’t think ever could again and I am a little 
terrified but I surely would not have it any other way. 

I watched the postman with gleaming eyes this morning. 
Once long ago when a letter with a tiny check meant the 
difference between dinner and not, there was a long desert 
time and the postman got so ashamed that he walked on the 
other side of the street. Finally I got to cursing him as he 
went by and at last I accused him of deliberately stealing 
mail. He drew himself up with pitiable dignity and said, 
“When they write them — ^I bring them.” Poor fellow. He still 
works in the postoffice but they only let him cancel three- 
cent stamps for his spirit is broken and his armor is split and 
rusted. 

I am going to make my world-shaking macaroni for dinner 
and the kids are wild with joy because it means that there 
will be tomato sauce all over the kitchen and all over me. My 
dinners are not only food. They are decorations also. 

372 



[Thursday] evening 

What macaroni. I have been heartily congratulated by 
macaroni-faced children. 

They are at a drive-in movie beautifully dressed. But while 
waiting and sitting straight to keep clean — ^we had a confer- 
ence — the old tough one. “When are you coming home to 
New York?” “I don’t know.” “You aren’t ever coming back, 
are you?” “That seems correct.” “Why not?” “I honestly don’t 
know.” “Do we have to go back?” “Yes.” “Why?” “I don’t 
know.” “Why can’t we stay here? We can stay in the tent — ^we 
would like it there.” And Catbird — “I like the tent.” Catbird 
underlines all words. There are bad times when I can’t tell 
them anything and still am not willing to lie to them, and 
they are not old enough for the truth because it wouldn’t 
make any more sense to them than it does to me. I’ll have to 
make this start home an awful lot of fun or there is going to 
be bad heartbreak. 

I’ll put this away and finish it later tonight and post it in 
the morning. Don’t make it too long, dear. 

I’ve solved one thing. The two drops of Femme on the pil- 
low make for good dreams. 


Thursday night 

Now a kind of ennui, darling. I wish you would call Annie 
Laurie Williams [in New York] and perhaps have tea with 
her. She’s really family. I know you’ll get along. Another 
Texan and after many years in the theater she is still starry- 
eyed about it. She loves me quite a lot. Also is my dramatic 
agent. I will write her that you may call her. Of course you 
need not but I would like it if you did. And I don’t even know 
why. But it seems a right thing. 

I’ve had a number of years of frustration and sterility. And 
I have work that has to be done and it should be done with 
violence and gaiety. And I think, God damn it, that such can 
be. Don’t you? 

I have a great humming in my ears from clenching my 
jaws. Isn’t it odd the physical symbols we use? 

The bird will have a new flower in his box for you. I should 
have given him to you but he might have been found and 
there would be no way in the world to explain him. But I 
hope you had the chain fixed and that you will wear the wood 
sometimes when you think of it. And the time will go very 


373 



quickly (that’s a goddamned lie of course but it’s the thing 
one says). The time will crawl like a blind snail on soft sand. 
And the dogs will bark pretty much too. 

Do you know, I am putting off ending this letter as though 
the end would be the end of something I want to hold on to. 
That’s not true of course — just a feeling like the quick one of 
hexing your trip so you couldn’t go. The mind is capable of 
any selfishness and it thinks unworthy things whether you 
want it to or not. Best to admit it is a bad child rather than 
to pretend it is always a good one. Because a bad child can 
improve but a good one is a liar and nothing can improve a 
liar. 

A good trip, dear, with fun. And come back after — come 
back. I can’t write any more. But of course I will. 1 shall think 
of you. 

Altoona V. Eldredge 


How I hate to stop 

I really feel the earthquake thing still. Or some tremendous 
change. 


July 30 

Saturday night 

My Belle: 

I will be restless until I have your discreet wire. So send it 
soon, won’t you? I wasn’t sick darling, except with the sick- 
ness you know. It just took symptoms on itself. I feel fine. 

Do you know that the luck mark on the palm of my left 
hand is suddenly getting larger and darker? Isn’t that inter- 
esting? 

It will be a quick month, dear. It has to be. The thunder 
and lightning and rain came here today. I knew some- 
thing was coming. That isn’t all that’s coming though. 
That’s just the world symbol. All hell is going to break 
loose darling and it will not be your doing or mine. But it 
won’t be easy nor soft. I would be sorry for this except 
that soft and easy things usually turn out to be just that— 
soft and easy. We’ve had it lucky. I don’t depend on that. 
There must be some payment demanded. Believe it, it 
can’t be otherwise and do you not be unhappy or uneased 
when the god-palm is out for its nickel. 


374 



Good-bye, dear. Good flight, good month, good fun and 
remember! 

Joe Artichoke the 3rd 


August 2 
Tuesday noon 

Darling — 

I have no feeling about flying myself but I shall be very 
nervous until I know you are in. This is odd but not odd. 

This is the interval of nap before the great party — there is 
a mounting hysteria in the house which will break loose at 
2 o’clock. I have things that must be done now. The bakery 
made a mistake and put white frosting on the cakes. But the 
inside is chocolate anyway. My mind is split up between the 
party and you in the air. 


[Tuesday] night 

The party roared through the day. The kids are still telling 
jokes in bed to keep from going to sleep. They hate to let go. 

The enclosed (I don’t know whether you like it) is a picture 
of a portrait by Bo Beskow, who is the best portrait painter 
in Scandinavia and one of the best in the world. Gwyn has 
the painting of course and I don’t know whether I can ever 
get it. I think I will try because it is the only picture of myself 
I have ever liked. [He was later able to get it.] If you do like 
it I will some day try to get you the original or have him do 
another. He paints me every ten years. Someday I hope you 
will meet him. 

I have so many things to say to you and I don’t know 
what they are. But I will. One of them is that I am deeply 
tired of my inferiors. It seems to me that I have spent a 
good part of my life reassuring insecure people. And as 
with a bad tennis player, it ruins your game. What is this 
common touch that is supposed to be so goddamned desir- 
able? The common touch is usually an inept, stupid, 
clumsy, unintelligent touch. It is only the uncommon 
touch that amounts to a damn. 

I doubt whether you can fool Annie Laurie or even that it 
would be good to try. She will know and approve whether you 
tell her anything or not. I’m sure of that. She knows every- 
thing and tells absolutely nothing. If you ever need a shoul- 


375 



der, she is it. I’d like her to know all about you and she’ll be 
glad because she loves me. 

This is something I want to tell you very strongly. Don’t do 
anything. I am sure it will all be done for you and that will 
probably be much better. The most powerful magic in the 
whole world is working for us. Relax and let it work and 
make no overt moves. I know you do not like to be a mystery 
woman but I think it will be good for you to try for a little 
while. 

My dear, when I asked you for a present, I think I meant 
something of yours, that you liked and that could be a bunch 
of ribbons or a glove whose mate you left in a bar. That’s 
what I meant. I suppose it is some fetishism but not the 
psychiatric kind. You see? Something that feels like you and 
smells like you. And did you lose a little silver button that 
looks like braided strings? Didn’t you have silver buttons on 
a sweater? 

It’s nearly time for sleep. It’s been a big day and I feel fine 
but very tired. 

Good night my very dear. 

To New York: 


August i6 
Tuesday noon 

Dear — 

I thought I would tell you this when I saw you but I will 
now because — 

As you may have gathered, there was quite a beating in- 
volved in this last thing — not so much to ego because I don’t 
seem to have that kind of ego but rather fatalistically. You 
see I have never admitted that anything but dying could 
defeat me and stop me coming back. And then at the end of 
the long howl of this last thing I felt the possibility. I don’t 
mean that I gave up but I saw for the first time in my life that 
I could. There was in back of the dark fringe of conscious- 
ness not only possible defeat but acceptance. Almost the 
words — “Well there it is and it’s over and it was silly.” All 
winter that went on. And it got in and in. As with a fighter 
— ^when he is about to go down he puts up a great flurry just 
on the outside chance of landing one. I think that was my life 
last winter — ^that and a drying up of the spirit and a kind of 

376 



dark and deathly cynicism which is the most sterile thing in 
the world. In that is pleasure but no joy. It is like intercourse 
with a condom, or stroking fine marble with a glove on. 

Once when I was young I had pleural pneumonia and I was 
very near dying and what I remember is that in that state I 
had no feeling nor desire either for life or death. And that is 
somewhat the feeling I have had, fall, winter, spring. And it 
was so unusual for me that I had no weapons with which to 
fight it. There’s no way of knowing but I think it was a near 
thing. During the war I went out definitely to be killed and 
this was with foreknowledge of what was going to happen. 
I knew it surely with my mother’s second sight. I knew it and 
thought it would be all right to offer myself and see what the 
coin did. So I took really miraculous chances, with every kind 
of weapon and warfare and outside of getting smacked with 
a gasoline can I couldn’t even get scratched. But that was an 
active creative death while, when it finally happened, it was 
a rusting, corroding waste away. And more horrible because 
there was no way to get at it to fight it. The energy, of which 
I have always had too much, wasted away and left me almost 
without strength. Of course I protested to myself and to ev- 
eryone I loved that it wasn’t true. But they knew and that’s 
why they worried about me. They hadn’t during the war. And 
I don’t know of course, but I think it was a near thing. And 
the danger did not lie in that I was afraid but in that I wasn’t. 
That’s what I meant by acceptance. 

And the reason for telling you this dismal chronicle is that 
it is not true anymore. It is gone and the energy is washing 
back into me and I’m not dried up. And I feel wonderful. 

And now you know. 

Good night, dear. I’ll kick some worlds around now. 

[unsigned] 


Alarmed at reports of an outbreak of polio in New 
York, Steinbeck wrote his ex-wife; 


377 



To Gwyndolyn Steinbeck 

IN NEW YORK 


[Pacific Grove] 
August 19, 1949 

Dear Gwyn: 

By now you will have had the letter written a couple of 
days ago. Naturally I should be very pleased if the boys didn’t 
go back to the East until all the danger is over for this year. 

Thom caught two fish today and in the excitement I 
dropped my rod and reel in the ocean. He dragged them 
home on his line and they were pretty sandy but he didn’t 
want to eat them. Cat wanted to go back to fish just as I put 
them to bed. 

When Thom dropped a tooth yesterday he swallowed it but 
the birthday mouse forgave him and put a half dollar under 
his pillow. He awakened me at six to show me. But there was 
a hole in his pocket so he lost the money and now he has 
worked it out that it was because he swallowed the tooth. 

I shall be glad if you take the boys home yourself. But I 
must know your plans. I so arranged things that I could 
spend all of my time with them for these two months. 

Do please let me know your plans. It is extremely neces- 
sary to me. 

J 


378 


To Elaine Scott 


[Pacific Grove] 
August 20-21 [1949] 

Fishing again today. Catbird wasn’t good at it with his new 
rod. I tied a live fish to his line without his seeing and he 
caught it all afternoon. My letters are turning into a diary of 
a nursemaid. 

Dear, my dear, the reading of Oz, the playing, the baths are 
over and birdlets are asleep. Your letter came this afternoon. 
What a good thing you are, what a double extra good thing. 
Oh! darling we’re going to have fun at last, At Last! 

Oh! darling, Thom needs a pet so badly and today one of his 
friends offered him a kitten and he wants it so dreadfully. He 
brought it up very casually and offhand — and kind of deadly. 
I mean in a dead manner as though he knew I would refuse 
to let him have it. His mother had refused. And he really 
needs it. And I had to make a judgment. The richness of 
having the kitten against the heartbreak of not being able to 
take it to New York with him. In the morning if he wants it, 
he can have it even if he does have to give it up. To refuse 
him would be like refusing love because you might get hurt 
and that’s the best I can do. 

Dear, Fm not afraid of anything now. And surely I won’t 
force anything and surely I’ll let it go on happening. And I 
know it will work out. I’m sure of it. Completely sure. 

I’m covering flight 5 with the bird. 

Good night, dear. 

[unsigned] 


379 



“I spent the summer exclusively with the children,” 
he wrote Bo Beskow, not quite accurately. “That is 
the main reason I have not written. I haven’t written 
to anyone. The boys did not want to go back and 
having to make them go was not a chore that I liked 
very much. And you are right. I do have a girl, and 
a good one too, and that is a fine thing to have.” 

As for writing: 

“I have to work on the scripts of two pictures and 
after that I will start on the thing I really want to do. 
The two pictures will make it possible for my chil- 
dren to be taken care of for a long time to come.” 


To Elaine Scott 

IN BRENTWOOD 


[Pacific Grove] 
[October ii, 1949] 
[Tuesday] 

Darling — 

You know sporadically I keep a kind of diary day book. It 
is written in a kind of Pepysian shorthand. It is valuable 
sometimes. Looking back through it 1 came to the reference 
to your first trip here. And it is amazing how quickly I knew. 
Almost immediately. I put things in it I don’t even know, and 
only much later do I realize that they are in there. Actually 
it is a kind of warm-up book. When I am working it is good 
to write a page before going to work. It both resolves the day 
things that might be distracting and warms up my pen the 
way a pitcher warms up. It’s a matter of long practice. I have 
made no entries all summer but now will begin it again. Very 
soothing to raw nerves. 

Last night in one of the times I awakened I got a flock of 
foreknowledge that was like a landscape on a dark night 
suddenly created by a flash of lightning. There it was. Maybe 
I’ll write it and put it away. But it was all there. And it was 
good. 

Everyman [working title for what was to become Burning 
380 



Bright] continues to grow in my mind. My Christ! it’s a dra- 
matic thing. Now it has beginning, middle and end and that’s 
what three acts are and that’s why there are three acts. The 
5-act play is still three acts. And the form was imposed by the 
human mind, not by playwrights or critics. This doesn’t 
mean that external reality has beginning, middle and end 
but simply that the human brain perceives it so. This letter 
is growing pedagogic, isn’t it? 


October 14 
Friday night 

My dearest Belle; 

Toby S. [Street] came in and sat with me for an hour and 
then went along. He is a very nice guy. 

Tonight I am playing a game I have used before. It is to go 
over the times when I have been with you and to pick up little 
things that happened that were unnoticed because there was 
so much else at the time. 

And then projection — I am so looking forward to sitting in 
Notre Dame with you and watching the light change 
through the rose window. And sitting on the steps of that ugly 
church on the mountain of the martyr and seeing daylight 
come over Paris. And of walking through Fontainebleau 
where Louis walked. Such places are so charged for me. The 
deep walls of the Conciergerie where Marie came out to go 
to the knife. Somehow they keep their charge. You will see. 
Or to sit on an island in the Archipelago near Stockholm 
where the Viking ships assembled to start for America 
before America was officially discovered. 

Oh! so many things and so many I haven’t seen. I sat in the 
room in Albany where Carlyle wrote his history. My pub- 
lisher lives there now. [The famous block of flats off Picadilly 
usually referred to without the definite article.] But do you 
know — I’ve never been to the Tower? nor to Stratford. Fleet 
St. I know pretty well and the Inns of Court and the Temple 
which was bombed and burned. But so many I haven’t seen. 
I want to see the house my people came from in Ireland. It’s 
a hovel I guess. And I don’t think this will be so long in the 
future either. My mind is popping with excitements tonight. 
You haven’t been to Europe so you don’t know how remem- 
bered things come out of the earth like gas and there you are. 
And only then do you realize how close we are — no matter 

381 



how many generations we are away from it. Funny, I can see 
it now in my mind — little farms in Denmark which are the 
picture in the Easter egg, storks and all. I wonder how I got 
on this. Do you suppose I am getting restless? 

You said that this was my home but I have thought about 
it deeply. I think I have no “place” home. Home is people and 
where you work well. I have homes everywhere and many I 
have not even seen yet. That is perhaps why I am restless. I 
haven’t seen all of my homes. 

I have sat around for the best part of a year waiting for 
wounds to heal and the scabs to fall off. And now that has 
happened and I am not patient. You must know this — 1 am 
not patient. So much to do and so little time. Christ! I haven’t 
even met Mrs. Roosevelt. 

Someday before too long I will make a little cross from the 
olive wood for Way [Waverly Scott, her daughter]. And I will 
know when to give it to her. 

I will mail this tomorrow my dear. And tonight I shall read 
a great swatch of Don Quixote and who knows — maybe I will 
finish the second volume sometime. I can feel it coming into 
the end now and with such grandeur and mature sadness. 
Nothing can take away the dignity then. He stands him up 
naked. He pins placards on his back (literally) and the enor- 
mous childlike dignity is still there. It is as though he said — 
“You see, if there is greatness no smallness has any effect.” 
And suddenly it turns out that the book is not an attack on 
knight errantry but a celebration of the human spirit. 

I’ll finish this tomorrow darling. Good night. Que duermes 
bien. 

J. 


November i 
Tuesday 

Darling — 

So the week starts. Jules Buck got in last night and we go 
to work today. 


Twentieth Centory-Fox had sent Jules Buck, a 
scenarist, to Pacific Grove to help Steinbeck with the 
picture form, in the preparation of the screenplay of 
Zapata. Buck later became a well-known agent and 
film producer. 

382 



Darling, it’s going to be only notes for a while, I think. This 
month is going to be pure work. 

Your good long letter came yesterday. It was what I was 
trying to say all along without making it sound cautious. I 
only know that if you say to hell with everything you are 
going to catch it from somewhere. 


November 2 
[Wednesday] 

Now I can write a little more slowly. A good day of 
work and a good letter from you. Pat sent me the new 
Viking Portable Chaucer. It looks very fine. I am reread- 
ing Pepys in bed at night. What a wonderful thing it is. 
Have you ever read the uncut version? Such a good man 
he was. 


At that moment, Elaine Scott telephoned to report 
that the final break with her husband had come. 

Your call came. And I assure you it was hard finishing the 
day’s work but I did. I couldn’t not do it. Jules was here. 

I wish I could give you some advice or some help. But 
beyond what I said, I can’t. But I do know this — if it will do 
Way irreparable harm, you will have to stick. But you always 
knew this. If you violated that, there wouldn’t be anything 
for you any place. It will be most difficult on you— even terri- 
ble but you will have to stick it out to the end for your own 
sake as well as Way’s. You cannot be a tom-up girl. It will be 
said that you have been unfaithful. Every means will be used 
to make you feel guilty. And that you must avoid. Put the rap 
on me if you wish. Nobody did anything. Things just hap- 
pened. 

The more calm you can be inside and out, the better it will 
be. Here I am giving advice I am not sure at all that I can 
take. It’s going to be very bad. Please believe this. 

You know that I offer you very little financial security and 
no inheritance. While I make a lot of money I do not get to 
keep much. But I am sure you know this. If I got bumped 
tomorrow there would be nothing except a few years of book 
royalties — ^literally nothing except this house. I will not men- 
tion that again. 

383 



How I wish I could help you. 

You must not mind my voice over the phone. It freezes 
always on the phone as you well know. 

Another thing you must expect is for your half-friends to 
turn against you. You are a set-up for that. 

Now I don’t want to labor this any more. I love you and you 
know that. If the climax comes soon you will have to go East 
I guess. And don’t forget that the fact that you told him the 
truth in no way forces you to pillory yourself publicly unless 
you want to. And finally you must tell yourself constantly 
something that I know — ^you are one of the most beloved 
people in the world — ^not only by me but by nearly everyone 
you know. I am repeating these things because you are bound 
sometime to get to thinking otherwise. The only reason I am 
a little sorry it happened right now is a fear that I might lose 
Way’s love because of its soonness — ^before she got used to it. 
Otherwise — now is as good a time as ever. It could never have 
been easy or soft. 

Love to you, dear. It will take time. But we knew that. 

J. 


[November 3] 

Thursday morning 

It is before mail time and before Jules arrives. No call from 
you last night. I hope no trouble. You know how the mind 
leaps around and finds bad things. Mine is no different. I 
imagine things and for the moment they are true. And I had 
a strange dream. I was standing at your door. I knocked and 
rang and no one answered. 

Now I am so anxious to know about Way. A method will be 
found to tell her, I think, if she doesn’t pick the whole thing 
out of the air. And you will have to do such a good job there 
but being the girl she is it will be easier for her. And maybe 
it will not be as shocking as we think it might. Kids always 
surprise us. 


Thursday afternoon late 
Thank god that day is over. I’ve had to dictate all day with 
mice gnawing my stomach. 


384 



Now Elaine Scott telephoned from Brentwood to say 
that at her husband’s insistence she was to come to 
Pacific Grove to discuss the future of all three of 
them. 


My dear — I’ll meet the plane Saturday. It comes in at 12:20 
I think but will verify. But I know that between now and then 
there will be several changes. You will be ordered to come 
and ordered to stay, you will be commanded not to see me 
and ordered to see me. You will be ordered to sleep with me 
and ordered not to. I hope all of this does not completely 
sicken you. That’s one of its purposes. The plan already 
worked out is this — It will be so terrible, uncomfortable, un- 
pleasant, ugly, disgusting, unending, therefore it will be 
easier, cleaner and more decent to maintain the status quo. 
Believe me, this is the method. 

And in all of this I have very little to offer you. And this cuts 
at me too. You can be sure you will not be permitted to come 
out of this without a beating. 

I’ve tried to think where I have been wrong in this and I 
can’t without reaching. It was a matter of mutual regard in 
all directions from the first. I would do it again instantly. And 
I’m too old to wear a hair shirt for pure pleasure. 

I wonder whether I should send this. It might just add to 
your miseries. No, I think it is better to send it. There is no 
protection. The best protection is to be wide open to every- 
thing. It is the protected who get the worst hurt. 

I know you can’t write, poor dear. And it doesn’t seem to 
me that I am backing you up very much. I will of course 
in any way I can or you can think of. I keep giving you 
advice. But you see I do not want you to get panicky nor 
precipitous — nor sick and tired and make mistakes that 
cannot be corrected. 

Darling — ^I did not send this letter. Now it is Friday 
night — 11:30. We just stopped work 10 minutes ago. We 
have worked since 9 this morning. And I think without 
work I would have gone a little nuts. I am so worried 
about you. I keep saying to myself that if things really got 
out of hand you would find some way to let me know so 
that I could do something. And now I think— what if there 
is no word and you are not on the plane tomorrow? I shall 
meet the plane whether or not I hear from you. I’m just 

385 



sitting here arguing with myself and planning what I will 
do if—. And that is crazy. I’ll try to stop worrying you with 
my worries. 

All day we worked and got much done. I think all right and 
Jules thinks good but how it could be with only half a mind 
at work I do not know. And I’ve got to stop this thing of 
building situations in my mind and then meeting them and 
they haven’t arisen yet. 

I’ve got to stop. Or I won’t be any good to you. 


He met the plane. She was on it. It was a weekend 
of momentous decisions: that she would file for di- 
vorce, that after he had finished the Zapata script 
he would move to New York, and that she and Wav- 
erly would follow as soon as her interlocutory decree 
was granted and she could close the Brentwood 
house. 


November 7 
Monday night 

Darling — 

Now for the first time I can write to you as I have wished 
for a very long time. I adore you, I am proud of you. I want 
to be with you always. A long time ago when I knew the 
strength of my feeling I had to keep it hidden. It seemed to 
me that I must be non-demanding. I wanted you to come to 
me but it had to be out of your own mind and will — and as 
little as possible influenced by me. I knew there would be 
sorrow surely, but I did not want to add to it. I wanted you to 
come and maybe filled the air with it but on the surface I had 
to be reluctant, wise, thoughtful and even withdrawn. Even 
through Saturday and Sunday I had to. 

And now I don’t any more. And I feel that a great flat 
weight is lifted from me. The sorrow will still be there but 
now I can help with it. I want you to be my woman in all ways 
and permanently. You see? Now I can say it — now that you 
did it yourself. Sometimes I didn’t know why the insistence 
was so great that it be this way but now I know it was right. 
And I feel wonderful and a whole new life opens — exciting 
and fun and the sorrow will recede, everyone. I swear this. 
I am so sorry to have made you take two steps for my one. 
That will never happen again from now on. 

I will pray that Way will not be hurt and with that, every- 
386 



thing will be all right, and we will live so well, so well. 1 love 
you. 

John 


Monday night Annex 
I had just sealed that letter when the phone rang and it was 
Annie Laurie. She is incredible. She knew something was 
happening and she wanted to know what. So I told her and 
she cried a little with pleasure and she said things about you 
that should have made your ears burn. She said, “You should 
thank heaven. This is the best thing that ever happened to 
you.” Which of course I do because I was about finished and 
now I am just beginning. 

Don’t please try to get a job in New York right now. When 
I get to the play — ^which will be soon — 1 shall want you with 
me or close enough so I can run to you with a page. This is 
our first job together and it is very important to me that you 
be deeply involved in it. Isn’t it wonderful that I can say that 
now and don’t have to beat about the bush? I don’t have to be 
conservative at all. I want my woman and I want her near 
me. 

LOTS OF TIME NOW FOR EVERYTHING 
I am going to bed — wonderfully tired and relaxed — and 
that buzzing you hear in your ears — is me going right on 
talking. 

I love you, 

J. 

By November 8, his mood was even brighter. 

Darling you only know me as the Play Boy, young, dar- 
ing, rich, handsome, slicked back hair and one button 
shirt — a beautiful dancer and the ideal fourth at bridge. 
You have only seen me weekends at house parties in my 
flannels and two-tone shoes — leaping over the net to con- 
gratulate the loser. I wonder if you would recognize me to- 
night-successful, graying at the temples— stern, just, a 
friend to cherish, an enemy to fear, incisive of speech, 
analytic by temperament, controlled, a thinking machine. 
No, I doubt whether you would know me. I have one other 
side. A shit. (I said it first.) 

387 



He sent her his mother’s engagement ring, and with 
it, this note. 


To Elaine Scott 


[Pacific Grove] 
[November 1949] 

My dear — this is for you from me. 

I wish only one thing. When Thom shall need it — will you 
give it to him and tell him about it? Maybe he won’t be the 
kind of man who would want it nor understand it but if he 
should be — I would like him to have it. 

But it is yours now. 

I love you, 

John 


To Elaine Scott 


[Pacific Grove] 
November 10, 1949 
Thursday 

My dear — 

Your letter came this morning at 8:30 and I was so glad to 
get it. And believe me I was wide awake. Shall I describe my 
morning? Jack slept in the bed at the end of the room. [Jack 
Wagner, who was visiting him.] At six-thirty he awakened, 
which waked me. He couldn’t find the toilet although he had 
been there three times last night. Then in some way he 
fouled up the chain so he got splashed. I went out and fixed 
it for him. Went back to bed. He came in— asked if I didn’t 
have some shaving lotion. I said about twelve bottles in the 
388 



bathroom. He couldn’t find it. I got up and showed him the 
shelf full of bottles. Now he is ready to take a walk. It is 7:00. 
But in trying to get out the door he throws the spring lock and 
is trapped. I get up and let him out. He works a long time at 
the garden gate and manages to lock it so he can’t open it. I 
get up and balls-ass naked go outside and let him out. It was 
cold. I have just got back in bed when he rings the bell. He 
has forgotten something. I let him in and help him out again. 
By this time if you can imagine it — I am not sleepy. 

This was a bad time for him to come. He offers suggestions 
on script which are off the line — old picture tricks and we are 
writing a no-trick script. I hope sometimes that he gets drunk 
and disappears. Now I’ve got that out of my system. I am very 
impatient when I am working so hard. 

I shall be with you tonight in the Way thing. Oh! Lord! I 
hope he [Zachary Scott] doesn’t pull out the stops tonight. It 
will only hurt him. Kids don’t like that. They don’t believe in 
emotion in adults since they invented it themselves. 

I am rushing this letter because I may have to stop it any 
minute. I’m so glad you like and understand my mother’s 
ring. 

It has poured rain and the country is soaked and wonderful. 


November ii 
Friday 6 p.m. 

Tonight I shall work by myself. Tonight is dialogue and I 
must do that alone. 

I was so pleased with your news today. I knew Waverly 
would handle it well. It will bother her but not too much after 
a little while, particularly if there is any fun. Do you think 
you and she could come up here? It is going to be a long 
month otherwise. Of course I will see you before I leave [for 
New York] in any case and of course we will spend Christmas 
together. And we’ll snag the boys for some part of Christmas 
even if we have to have an early, separate one. I’m going to 
have some kind of private tree for you and me and Way and 
the boys even if it is in a hotel. You know very well it doesn’t 
matter where it is if there is love and happiness. And without 
these no place is any good. 

God I wish you were here tonight. Stay close, very close. 

J. 


389 



November 14 
Monday 

Honey — 

Jack left this morning after a last flurry of fuzziness, dis- 
content and bumbling. He managed to get on the train, or 
rather was put on the train by Neale because at the last 
moment he broke his glasses. 

Letter from Kazan with a P.S. “I liked your girl friend.” 
From him that is a superlative. The fact that he remembered 
to say it. Neale is happy. He has had a chance to clean the 
house this morning. First time since Jack arrived. 


November 15 
Tuesday 

Now it is Tuesday and two weeks ago today we started 
work here. Strong and active dreams and your special came 
this morning. Of course you should take things to New York. 
If you rent an apt. you will need blankets and linen, etc. Very 
expensive to replace as Neale and I found out when we came 
here. 

I will be done early next week I am convinced. And then, 
of course, I could go anytime. I think it will be a good thing 
if I have Thanksgiving with Esther because probably Beth 
and Mary and all the nieces will be there. By the way, no 
word from Esther which means that she either didn’t hear 
or is keeping her mouth shut. I’ve never discussed this with 
any of my sisters. We aren’t that kind of family. They will 
automatically go along with me and then they will love you 
on your own. 

When you get rested in N.Y. I am going to take you to a 
miraculous dinner — a real lulu. And Fm going to order every 
single item. You don’t have any choice. It is going to be ex- 
pensive and wonderful and I may even dress. I’m going to 
send my clothes on by express next week in my old foot- 
locker. I had it all during the war. I think it still has J. S. 
Herald Tribune, N. Y., Paris, London painted on it in case it 
got lost. 

I like setting a time for telephone calls. Then one doesn’t 
have to be afraid to go out to the post box or take a bath for 
fear of missing one. 


390 



Tuesday 


My very dear; 

We just finished all of the 4th Act pickups and inserts and 
worked out the whole last half of the last act and it is going 
to be good. And it’s only 10 p.m. so I can have a little time to 
write you before I go to bed. Toby Street came over about six 
and had a couple of drinks — ^not me. Fm still virgin. 

I thought today how I remember you or rather scenes that 
have become set. One is in the Pine Inn sitting in that room 
waiting for the phone to ring. One is in my house with the 
firelight on your body when you went to get cigarettes. One 
is lying on a beach towel reading and one is when I had the 
kids in the car to take them away and I looked back and you 
and Way were crying. It is strange. I have no picture of you 
when Zack was in the room. I remember him holding Way 
and sitting at the head of the table. But you aren’t in those 
scenes. In the others, it is exactly photographic. Oh! yes, and 
a sharp one — ^you and Way half running from the N.Y. plane, 
you carrying the large square jewel box. How sharply some 
things register. 

And at that moment you phoned. What a job you must be 
doing. Ours is pretty straight line, just pound through, but 
you are running in all directions. 

I’ll stop this now and go to bed. Good night dear. Were you 
irritated tonight or was it just other people in the room? 


November 27 
Saturday 

My dear thing — 

I called you in the night just because I was lonely for you 
and for no other reason. You are right — ^it is a very little time 
and we must be very careful. It isn’t much to do. I think your 
mother’s picking it up out of your letters is very strange. 

Mary is going to take my begonia bulbs and plant them 
next year. That way they will be kept up. And some of my 
bulbs are very old and fine and it would be a shame to lose 
them. 

My God, Fm glad that I’m going Monday. I’m all cleaned up 
here. It would be silly to wait around. 

Your sister Fran sounds wonderful and I liked the letter 
from your baby sister [Jean]. 


391 



Darling, of course I’ni going to like your people. They are 
so sound about you. And my God how understanding. Maybe 
Fran can come up to N. Y. Ijefore too long. I hope they won’t 
dislike me. I will try to make it so they won’t. 


November 28 
Sunday 

Darling — 

This is the last letter from here. Hasn’t it all been fantas- 
tic? I think when you get away you might go into a tailspin 
just thinking of all the things you have done in such a short 
time. I am constantly amazed at your courage. You can’t lose 
with that and we’ll keep it high, too. 

Lord, I wish you were going with me. Then it would be 
such good fun. Of course I will write you from the plane. 
Then I will take the sleeping pills and awaken in the morn- 
ing. And I hope I don’t tousle any old ladies. 


Sunday 7:30 p.m. 

Darling: 

I am all churning inside. It’s the change — change of so 
many things. I’m excited as well. This is the last night in this 
house for a while. We must come back to it often. It has been 
a good house always. And this time it has really done its duty. 
It has made me well and strong again and I first was with you 
here. I feel very grateful to this little house. 

I’ll talk to you a little later. 

J. 


November 29 
Monday 

Dearest — 

wouldn’t you know I couldn’t finish a letter that easily? It was 
a dreadful long night and a lousy detective story and now I 
am nervous because I have to wait until night to go. 

Neale is buzzing around like a bloody bug being nice. I’ve 
done all of the things I can think of that needed doing. Cov- 
ered the town. Taken a bottle of whiskey to the Chief of 
Police and one to the mail carrier. All of these thoughts in 
passing. You can see that my mind is a mess. Hurry — ^hurry. 

392 



We’ve got to have a drink in the Plaza bar in the evening with 
the first snow falling. 

Maybe there’s something here I have forgotten but if there 
is it will have to wait. I’ve got a whole new beautiful life to 
look ahead at and I ain’t going to worry about forgetting 
things. 

Hurry, hurry, hurry! 

I love you, 

J. 


393 




^ CsjlAAXlJUi^A^ 


. .tl\e water 
and Ijis book^. . 



Burntng Bright, novel published, play produced. 
Married Elaine Scott. 

The Log from the Sea of Cortez published. 



O Bo Beskow 


145 East 52nd Street 
New York 
[Christmas 1949] 

Dear Bo: 

Your letter reached me recently and saddened me, the 
more so because for the first time in a very long time I am 
filled with hope. I have a good girl now and work and energy 
again, so I guess I have healed over on the wounded places. 
I feel that I have much writing and much living to do yet and 
that I am ready to do it. I have taken a very tiny apartment 
at the above address and although it has so far nothing but 
a bed and a card table, I feel good in it. Right after the first 
of the year I shall start the first of three plays. I hope to have 
them done by summer. That would make a good spring of it, 
I think. 

I wonder how this would be! If I finished two of my three 
plays by June — ^would it be feasible to bring my two boys over 
there for the summer? My girl would come too and maybe we 
could play in the archipelago? 

I miss you all very much. I have put sad things on you and 
frustrated things and maybe this summer could be one of joy 
and play and laughing. I’ve still got a lot of that in me 
whether you believe it or not. And my girl is the best girl I 
have known. This one is on my side and it is a very strange 
feeling. It is a lovely thing to have a friend in the house. 

New York is exciting now. The air is crisp and cold. I walk 
a great deal. Indeed, from my little apartment I can walk 
nearly any place in the town very quickly. And it’s a good 
town for walking. Last Christmas was a bad one without my 
boys. But this year I will have them on Christmas eve. 



Gwyn has all my books and all the money and the house 
and the pictures — except for your portait of me. And 1 
have one little room and a tiny kitchen and a bed and a 
card table and that is all I need with yellow pads and 
boxes of pencils. This she cannot nor ever will under- 
stand. But my new girl understands and likes it and so 
there we are. 

Meanwhile a merry Xmas and a very good year to you. 



He wrote in a similar vein to people in California, 
among them his niece Joan, sometimes called Toni. 
She was the daughter of his younger sister Mary and 
had recently married a Stanford University Law 
School student, David Heyler, Jr.: 

“We had a fine Xmas. The kids were with us on the 
Eve and we made a good and noisy festival. They 
folded about 9 and I soon afterwards — and needed it. 
You should see my apartment — a tiny place, but it 
has a beautiful big terrace which will be much lived 
on. I will put an awning on the terrace and some 
plants and it will probably be the nicest terrace any- 
where and most of the year will be as a huge living 
room. It is beautiful at night with all of the tall 
buildings lighted. Very Xmas indeed.” 

Early in the new year, he wrote to Elaine Scott’s 
sister, in Austin, Texas: 


398 



To Frances Atkinson 


[New York] 
[Early 1950] 

Dear Fran: 

The first thing I must tell you is a very simple and una- 
dorned fact. I love Elaine. This you must accept as true. 

The second thing is that I want to be with her the rest of 
my life. 

The third — that I am sorry there had to be disruption but 
I am not in the least ashamed and I surely would do that or 
anything else to be with Elaine. 

The fourth and most important thing is that Elaine seems 
to be happy. Happy— hell, she glows in the dark! 

Apart from the matters of affection, I am sure that she 
belongs here rather than in that despondent paradise of Hol- 
lywood. She strides along the windy street cutting a swath of 
light as she goes. She is excited all of the time and she is near 
to the people and work she loves best of all. It may be that 
there will not be quite so much in a material sense although 
I am quite solvent, but there will be, I assure you that there 
will be, many other things that will more than make up for 
that lack. 

You and Elaine are so very close. I want to know you, and 
as soon as possible. 

There — I think that’s what I wanted to say — I know it’s 
what I wanted to say. I wonder whether I have said it. 

I hope to meet you very soon. 

My love to you 
John 


399 



To Bo Beskow 


[New York] 
January 24 [1950] 

Dear Bo; 

Your good letter arrived at last and made me very happy. 
I have many things to say and ask so I will take a couple of 
days to write this letter so I will forget nothing. And you are 
right— my girl will and can take anything and love it if it is 
done in love. Gwyn always seemed to need more of every- 
thing than she was getting. Elaine is very different. A Texan 
with a soft accent but not the usual boastful Texan — the kind 
that can take care of itself— not like American women. She 
doesn’t want to be a man. But you will see. She radiates 
warmth. I think you will like my boys. They are lots of fun 
and very handsome. 

One thing has happened to me. I am not as shy and fright- 
ened as I was. I realize now what did it. Both of my wives 
were somehow in competition with me so that I was 
ashamed of being noticed. I am not a bit ashamed now. 
Elaine is on my side, not against me. The result is that I am 
more relaxed than I have ever been. And people meeting a 
train would not frighten me a bit. I would rather not speak 
because that requires preparation but I am not a bit afraid 
of interviews any more. You will see — after long sickness I 
am a well man. I am writing hard and my publishers say 
better than I have ever done. 

So long. And this year is going so fast that it will be little 
time before I will be seeing you. My cabin is reserved. 

Love to you 
John 


400 


To Mr. and Mrs. David Heyler, Jr. 


[New York] 
January 31, 1950 

Dear Dave and Joan: 

Lord! this month has gone fast and slow. With fingers 
crossed I am finishing my play today. That’s pretty fast since 
I started it on Jan. 9. But that doesn’t take into consideration 
the months of thinking about it of course. Naturally we 
haven’t done very much else but that’s not entirely true 
either. We saw Hepburn in As You Like It and that was a 
really beautiful show. I had never seen it before although of 
course I’ve read it many times. Then Saturday we went to a 
big party for Ethel Barrymore whom I had never met. She is 
charming and sharp but old and a little sick. The guest Ust 
was very strange: Bernie Baruch, Abe Burrows, Saroyan, Ray 
Bolger, Margo, John Ringling North with a tomato (why does 
he do it) Frank Loesser, Leonard Bernstein, Lillian Gish. Can 
you remember a crazier guest list? Anyway it ended at six in 
the morning with a dance contest between Bolger and Margo 
— she in classical Spanish and he in classical Bolger. A real 
good party. That’s the only late one I’ve been to since I 
started. Friday we’re seeing Caesar & Cleo with Hardwicke 
and T.ilh Palmer and the Happy Time Monday and The 
Cocktail Party Wednesday. This is more theatre than I have 
seen in years. And I’m loving it. If I am going to do plays I’ll 
have to know about them. 

I know what you mean about wanting to get out of the 
cloisters and to work. Do you know what you are going to do? 
The only advice I can give you is that you must not insist on 
being consistent in anything but work. I mean — if one thing 
is not fun and rewarding, don’t be afraid to reverse yourself 
and do something else. Joan will go along with you and it’s 
nobody else’s business. And that’s my advice to you for the 
day— To make a little tight company composed of Joan and 
you — ^to make your plans and decisions there, to take advice 
if it seems good, but pressures never, and from that tight 
island to do exactly what you want and to hell with every- 


401 




body. There’s only one crime in our world and that’s failure 
and only one sin and that’s weakness. And if you operate out 
of your tight island, you’ll have neither. And my God, I’ve 
really grown a long beard in this letter — ^haven’t I. 

love 

John 


For the summer Steinbeck, with his two sons, a Co- 
lumbia undergraduate named Jack as tutor, and 
Elaine Scott, moved to Rockland County where he 
had rented a house belonging to Henry Varnum 
Poor. 


To Bo Beskow 


[Rockland County] 
Late July 1950 

Dear Bo: 

I was greatly relieved to get your letter. I am so glad you 
have broken the old slavery. I never liked the other one and 
I never knew why. But it was something basic; something 
maybe of odor beyond the conscious range. I am delighted 
that you have found a girl who delights you. Mine delights 
me. 

I have my boys in the country with me about an hour out 
of New York in the rich green and little streams of Rockland 
County. It is rough and comfortable and we are having a good 
summer and I am getting work done too. What more can you 
wish? My boys are fine and brown. They are pretty good. I 
don’t think I should want them more good than they are. 

My first play [Burnitm Bright] goes into rehearsal on Sept. 
5th and the second one probably in October. I am all finished 
402 



with the Zapata script and with a biography of Ed Ricketts 
for a new edition of Sea of Cortez. The second play not 
finished yet but should be next month. [This was abandoned.] 
So you can see that work has been coming out of me. I shall 
be done and ready to start on my long novel in October. 

I have been horrified at the creeping paralysis that is com- 
ing out of the Kremlin, the death of art and thought, the 
death of individuals and the only creative thing in the world 
is the individual. When I was in Russia a couple of years ago 
I could see no creative thing. The intellectuals parroted arti- 
cles they had read in safe magazines. It makes me more than 
sorry, it makes me nauseated. And of all the books required 
and sent to Russians who asked for them, not one arrived, 
and even the warm sweater and mittens for a girl, and a doll 
for a little girl — ^not even these were permitted to arrive. I 
can’t think that wars can solve things but something must 
stop this thing or the world is done and gone into a black 
chaos that makes the dark ages shine. If that is what we are 
headed for, I hope I do not live to see it and I won’t because 
I will fight it. God knows you and we are far from perfect but 
we are far better than that. We can make a noise even if not 
many people listen. 

Shostakovich denounced me as a cannibal the other day. 
Of course he must — any man who can say that his work, 
written in honesty, was not true, was wrong because a com- 
mittee says it was — is a liar and must have a very bad artistic 
conscience. He can say it was inept, badly executed, childish 
or immature but no artist is wrong. I suppose we have many 
people who would like to curb thought too but they have not 
succeeded and they must not succeed. If I seem vehement 
about this, it is because I saw it and see it. Here, I may not 
be liked for what I say but I can write it and people can read 
it and do and that’s all I ask. And I wonder (since our species 
is a creative one) about the hidden artists in Russia who 
paint behind drawn curtains, and sing music under their 
breaths and write poetry and burn it or hide it. I do not think 
any system which uses such force can survive for long but 
while it does — it can ruin and maim for such a long time to 
come. This is a tirade isn’t it? 

My Elaine is a wonderful girl. I can write with her sitting 
in the room with me and that’s the best that can be said about 
her calmness and benignity. It is the first peace I have had 
with a woman. She has great style and great kindness. She 


403 



doesn’t want to hurt anyone for anything. I guess, in other 
words, she is a well adjusted girl. So that is that and I hope 
it is good and will be all right. I have lots of work to do and 
I should for once like to do it in peace. I have not had that 
before. 

My oldest boy will be six on August 2nd. I am going in to 
New York tomorrow to get him some little presents. I don’t 
know what to get him. He wants an automobile and a horse 
neither of which is practical. He will have to go back to his 
mother in October. I hope he does not have to go too many 
more times. 

A long winter of hard work and then we will break free and 
if the world will let us, we will go out into it. So many people 
are shuddering in a planless lymph because they are afraid 
the world is falling apart. I do not believe that. It is changing 
surely but it cannot eliminate us completely. Some part of us 
— ^you in your windows and I perhaps in a sentence or two — 
will outwit them and go on. 

Please write to me more often. I shall want to know how 
you are getting on. 

and afFection to you 
and your girl 
John 


To Pascal Covici 


[Rockland County] 
[Midsummer 1950] 
Monday 

Dear Pat: 

A number of things to discuss with you so I’ll write them 
because on the telephone I forget everything. First about Sea 
of Cortez. Please note down the things you might want cut or 
changed so I can do it all at once. 

Second part — ^Forests [the play-novel he had been working 
on]. There is one disadvantage to the play-novel form. The 
novel has to go to press and stay that way but little changes 

404 



take place in the play right up to opening night. One big 
change took place yesterday. Neither Rodgers, Hammerstein 
[producers of the play] nor anyone in this office thought In the 
Forests of the Night was a good title for a play. Too long, they 
thought, and a touch literary. They suggest and I have agreed 
to the title, Burning Bright. I wish I had thought of it long 
ago. I don’t know what you will do about this since you have 
started the process and the thing is in page proof. Maybe just 
a note on the title page. I can also tell you that Mielziner will 
do the sets. He is crazy about the play. I am very glad of this 
because I think he is the very best of all. 

The summer is half over and I don’t know where it has 
gone. Nothing ever went so quickly. Elaine had to go to town 
to meet her daughter but she will be back tomorrow. I miss 
her and the boys miss her. My sister [Mary Dekker] went 
home. I think she was frightened. She has been living alone 
so long and in the past that she scuttled back. But I think she 
will come back and soon. It usually takes two tries when you 
have been boarded up so long. 

If I do not mention the war it is because I try not to think 
of it much. It seems a screaming hysteria to me — a thing of 
nightmare and madness. The pattern is too recent. We seem 
to be forcing ourselves into a war. I do not think the Russians 
will fight nor will they have to. We will bleed white and all 
die of apoplexy. 

I guess this is all. It is still cool and lovely in the country. 
Who could have thought it? But I am getting restive and I 
shall not be unpleased to be back in my little apartment with 
the yellow pads laid out. 

I’ll talk to you soon. 

love 

John 


405 


To Gwyndolyn Steinbeck 


[Rockland County] 
August 22, 1950 

Dear Gwyn: 

The boys are fine but bug bit. Thom especially has some 
very pretty mosquito bites. He scratches which makes them 
worse. Johnny has a tougher skin and they don’t poison him 
so badly. The boys are both hard as nails due to constant 
exercise. I think they have made progress this summer. They 
are being very good and very good company. 

Having heard small Nat [younger son of Nathaniel Bench- 
ley] say his prayers, they demanded to say theirs and they 
now know and like not only “Now I lay me — ” but also the 
Lord’s Prayer. Their interpretations of some of the words of 
the last one are interesting but they love the sounds of the 
words. Amen — has become “our men” and I can’t change 
that, just as I can’t change Oblong Cassidy and the Long 
Ranger. Also Johnny’s remark that “Last night it was night 
all night,” I find not only true but poetic. The boys know a 
great many poems and songs, some new and some they 
brought with them. 

Thom can now dive off a board into deep water and is very 
proud. Johnny is still shy of swimming but that is the only 
thing he is shy of. 

Both boys are highly manners-able (you’ve trained them 
well) and have lost the shyness with strangers. Both have 
remarkable ears for music but Johnny has an amazingly true 
pitch in singing — at four can carry a tune perfectly which is 
rare. Both boys want very much to go to school. Thom will 
learn to read this year and the moment he does, he will be 
into books for some time, I think. 

I have completely cut oflP comic books this summer and 
they have not missed them — ^largely because there were not 
other children around reading them. I also cut off the radio. 
They could listen to it in the daytime but never in their room 
during naps or at night. 

All in all they have been wonderful boys and I have en- 
406 



joyed them thoroughly. They look as wild and brown as 
range ponies. 

I should like to know when you want them back. On Sept. 
5th we go into rehearsal when I will move into town. 

Finally and with crossed fingers — there has not been one 
single cold or sniffle or stomach upset or fever all summer. 
They seem to be in perfect health. 

Please let me know your plans so I can make my arrange- 
ments. 

John 


To Elia Kazan 


[Rockland County] 
[Late summer 1950] 

Dear Gadg: 

Last night Elaine read me parts of the script [ Viva Zapa- 
ta!\. She liked it very much and I must say I did too. It is a 
little double action jewel of a script. But I was glad to hear 
it again because before it is mouthed by actors, I want to go 
over the dialogue once more for very small changes. Things 
like — “For that matter.” “As a matter of fact” — in other 
words all filler wants to come out. There isn’t much but there 
is some. I’ll want no word in dialogue that has not some 
definite reference to the story. You said once that you would 
like this to be a kind of monument. By the same token I would 
like it to be as tight and terse as possible. It is awfully good 
but it can be better. Just dialogue — I heard a dozen places 
where I can clean it and sharpen it. But outside of that I am 
very much pleased with it. I truly believe it is a classic exam- 
ple of good film writing. So we’ll make it perfect. 

Let me know what happens. After Labor Day I will be in 
town most of the time. 

Molly [Mrs. Kazan] left her hat here. 

Love to you both — 
John 


407 



To Webster F. Street 


[Rockland County] 
August 30 [1950] 

Dear Toby: 

You have written me often and fully from Mexico and it 
occurs to me that this might be the first time you have had 
the leisure to write in many years. Did you like it? Did you 
find you could stand leisure? I can’t very well. I go into a 
restless unhappy coma. It isn’t that I want to work but that 
I don’t want to not work. If that makes any sense. I am condi- 
tioned with a pencil until it has become a nervous tic. I can 
give the best advice about relaxing and not take any of it. I 
don’t think I have ever been relaxed in my life — not for one 
single minute. That might be the secret of my failures. Too 
much tension always. 

The summer is almost gone. We have one more week here. 
We start rehearsals on the 5th of Sept. We have a good cast. 
Kent Smith, Barbara Bel Geddes, [Howard] da Silva and an 
unknown boy who is going to make the rest of them fight for 
their lives [Martin Brooks]. It’s a good play, strong and simple 
and basic with no smartness. It will either strike with a 
smash or not go at all. It is a morality play, completely time- 
less and placeless. 

As a short novel — it has been turned down by every maga- 
zine in the country. The Book Clubs would not touch it. This 
makes me proud of them and of me. This is a highly moral 
story and they are afraid of it. It also gives me reason to 
believe that I am not writing crap. Indeed I think it might 
start a new trend in the theatre — ^partially going back to old 
and valid thinking and partially something entirely new. I 
feel some of my old vitality and courage coming back. And 
I do have the electric courage of a confirmed coward. 

As soon as this play opens and either goes or fails I want 
to start on my long novel — ^the one I have been practicing for 
all of my life. It is the Salinas Valley one. I think that if I am 
not ready to write it now, I never will be. I am nearly fifty and 
I’ve been practicing for about 33 years. Don’t these times 
408 



sound incredible? How could I have lived so long? Or you. 
Why, in years we’re verging on old age and I don’t feel it at 
all — I’m just as crazy and randy and lacking in judgment as 
I ever was. 

My boys have made such strides this summer. They are 
such good boys — really nice. They were in pretty bad shape 
when I got them but they have responded like nothing you 
ever saw. Elaine has done a lot of that just by loving them. 
They have some kind of security now which is all they 
needed anyway. I hope we have given them enough to tide 
them over what I suspect is going to be a tough year for them. 
But I will see them often this winter. Thom is old enough 
now to telephone me if he needs me. That makes me feel 
better. 

I guess this is the end of this letter. It has been kind of good 
talking to you. Let me hear if you get this. 

So long, 

John 


To Bo Beskow 


[New York] 
[September 1950] 

I wish I could think of some way to help, but I don’t know 
any. You have had this haunting for an incredible long time. 
And it does seem like a haunting to me — maybe tied up with 
a guilt feeling. Have you or have you thought of taking it to 
some good professional? Is it possible that finding its seat 
might help you to cope with it? I had always thought that a 
man should handle his own problems and take his own pun- 
ishments but there are some things you can’t handle your- 
self. I know that now. One might as truly say he could remove 
his own appendix. It is an outsize ego which refuses help. I 
know, because I have, or had, such a pride and I know it is 
wrong and unhealthy now. The moment I had deep driven 
into me the conviction that I was not complete and whole, I 


409 



began to feel better. There was a kind of humility even in 
admitting it that relieved the pressure. I can only tell you 
about myself because that is all I know. 

You have undoubtedly looked at your haunting. 

Even in the years ago when I met her— you did not love her. 
But worse than not loving her, oh, much worse — you didn’t 
like her. You took no health in your physical connections 
with her nor any joy. Indeed you practiced sex with her as 
though it were a sin or even a perversion. I am not making 
this up. You told me almost exactly this. Fm not interfering 
— Bo, I’m trying to help, helplessly. There is one other thing 
besides love which can tie two people together and that is 
guilt. There are so many destructive relationships — or per- 
haps more, than there are creative ones. 

I have had two destructive ones. I think I have the other 
kind now. I am working at this one very hard. All of its 
potential is good. I know that I contributed a great deal to the 
destructive qualities of the other two. I must not let that 
happen again. Also I wonder whether your flypaper soul has 
caught and held a buzzing guilt. Inspect this closely and see 
whether you do not love the whip. I know my own tendency 
that way and so I probe for it in you. I know that I am not 
content to live my own life and think my own thoughts. I 
must do it for everyone about me. I must take their pains too, 
even when they don’t have any. This I think is my prime 
selfish egotism. It is a thing I am fighting. It is actually one 
of the basic symptoms of infantilism. I have not grown up. 
And I am only two years short of 50 . 1 have very little time. 
I would like to be an adult part of that time. There are too 
many disappointments for a child. The world will not give 
the party he has designed and so he loves no party. 

I know I can’t help you with my mutual wanderings unless 
I can start you to wandering in the dark forest and in this way 
make you find a path. I seem to see a path for me and that 
is what I am trying to tell you. I am trying to say that the most 
precious thing in the world is your self— your individual, 
lonely self and that you can only find it after you have given 
it up. I won’t say that I have found it but I have seen the signs 
and felt a little of the light. Am I making any sense to you at 
all? 

As for my boys— I will do the best I can all of the time. I will 
always be available and I will give them all the love in the 
world, but if I cannot be God, I will not take that blame 


410 



either. This I am learning very slowly, Bo, but I am learning. 
It is the first symptom of adulthood— I cannot be God. My 
work is very irnportant to me because I am an animal condi- 
tioned to this kind of work but it is not very important in the 
world. I must keep these two separate. I wonder whether I 
can do that. Can’t you see. Bo, that I am trying to help in the 
only way I can? 

Elaine and I will probably be married in December. Her 
divorce is completed on the ist of December. Then I will have 
been married three times and do you know, I feel almost 
virginal about it. I do not feel soiled nor worn out nor cal- 
loused. I want to get a great piece of my novel done this 
winter so that when the spring comes we can go wandering. 
And I assure you that if it is humanly possible I will see you 
in the coming year. I think that would be good for both of us. 
You’ll want perhaps to paint me again too for even though 
the usual ten years has not passed I’ve grown more than in 
another ten years. 

Let me hear from you as soon as you can. I am worried 
about you. 

Love 

John 


To Annie Laurie Williams 


Ritz Carlton Hotel 
Boston 

October 6, 1950 

Dear Annie Laurie — 

I know you will be wanting to know how things are going. 
I have been working on the second act. The new build and 
curtain goes in tonight and the opening on Monday. I think 
we have a tight and dramatic second act now but I’ll know 
more when I see it tonight. They have practically chained 
me by the leg to the hotel radiator. 

It is the pleasantest thing working with these people. 
Elaine, who has had her share of troubles in the theatre is 



astonished that anything could be so smooth. R. & H. [Rogers 
and Hammerstein] say they are very pleased. Business is 
picking up. 

There is one curious thing about this play. Many people 
may not like it but those who do love it passionately and feel 
that it is somehow theirs. Katharine Cornell who came to the 
opening told me that this was one of the very few times she 
wished she were younger. “If I were 20 or even 10 years 
younger,” she said, “you couldn’t keep me out of it.” Lillian 
Gish called me and told me not to change a line. 

Now it is Saturday. The show was better last night than it 
has ever been. We are all very much heartened. 

All of us are determined to bring in a good show. And now 
I think we really are going to. 

love 

John 


To Eugene Solow 

ADAPTEai OF OF MICE AND MEN FOR THE SCREEN 


New York 
[October 21, 1950] 
[Friday] 

Dear Gene: 

The critics murdered us. I don’t know how long we can stay 
open but I would not think it would be long. But there you are. 
I’ve had it before and I will survive. But a book can wait 
around and a play can’t. We are disappointed but unde- 
stroyed. 

Now I’ll get to work again. One good thing about these 
things — they keep you from getting out of hand but they pro- 
mote no humility in me. I’ll not change my address. 

I wish you could have seen the play because it is a good 
play. I think it will do well in Europe where people are nei- 
ther afraid of the theme nor the language. The sterility 
theme may have had something to do with the violence of the 
criticism. Our critics are not very fecund. Then, the univer- 

412 



sal, mildly poetic language seemed to enrage them. Garland 
[Robert Garland, drama critic of the World-Telegtam ] — 
never quite balanced — ^wrote a notice of unmixed gibberish. 
Simply nuts. 

Well — there it is anyway. It can happen to anyone — and 
does. 

John 


To Jack and Max Wagner 


[New York] 
November 28 [1950] 

Dear Jack and Max: 

I must say, I get impatient with your failure ever to write 
a line. If one wanted to set down a description of the Wag- 
ners, one would say, “They are such and such and they do not 
write.” That is as much as to say, “They are such and such 
and they have two right feet.” I must think of it not as a 
failure or a fixation but simply as a symptom or a diagnostic. 
Some people write and some don’t. Most people have two 
balls, but there are a few who have one and even fewer who 
have three. 

We are having a very busy time. Elaine and I are going to 
be married Dec. 28th at Harold Guinzburg’s house and then 
we’re taking off for ten days for parts unknown and then 
coming back. I have a house on 72nd St. East but we will not 
be able to move into it until Feb. ist. Which will be just about 
right. It is a beautiful little house and I think we will be very 
happy and productive there. 

I guess it isn’t that Elaine gets better all the time but rather 
that I knowing her better am able to see more and more of 
her goodnesses. She is the best girl I ever knew. 

Those stains at the top are shoe polish. I have been shining 
some shoes. 

I have not written you since my play fell on its face. And 
it really did. It got the shit kicked out of it. It was a good piece 
of work and a lot of people are pretty mad at the critics for 


413 



destroying it. I have thought of this a good deal. Here is a play 
that I, Elaine, Guthrie McClintic [the director] Oscar Ham- 
merstein, Dick Rodgers [the producers] and many others 
thought was a good play. And God knows they are people who 
know their theatre. You would think they would know. It is 
very easy to blame the critics. They were not at fault. 

It was not a good play. It was a hell of a good piece of 
writing but it lacked the curious thing no one has ever 
defined which makes a play quite different from everything 
else in the world. I don’t know what that quality is but I know 
it when I hear it on stage. I guess we have to go back to the 
cliche “magic of the theatre.” This thing read wonderfully 
but it just did not play. And furthermore I don’t know what 
would make it play. Doctoring a play that will not play is like 
gagging a movie. It may make it acceptable but it doesn’t 
make a good movie of it. I had the best possible production, 
the best direction and sets that would break your heart they 
were so wonderful. And the producers are the finest people 
I have ever met. Tm telling you all this so you will see that 
I am not the least bit angry or upset. In fact I am hard at work 
on my new novel — the perennial Salinas Valley and this time 
it is going to get done and it is going to be good. Only ama- 
teurs are destroyed by bad notices. And more and more I 
grow to dislike amateurs and to love professionals. There are 
so very few of them in the world. 

Let’s see — what else is news? 

I see Gwyn fairly often when I go up to see the boys. She 
does not look well but has that kind of false gaiety you will 
remember. Only the boys are my business. Gwyn has never 
mentioned Elaine, nor asked a single question. And naturally 
I have never offered any information. But G. was at Guys and 
Dolls opening and she really gave Elaine a going over. And 
when Gwyn will put on her glasses at an opening, she is 
really curious. 

I had a letter from Gene Solow saying that Max was in A. A. 
Is this so? I hope it is and that all is happy. 

There it is. Our marriage will be Dec. 28th. You might 
write us a note of hope or good wishes or something even at 
the sacrifice of your principles. You were really in on the 
inception of this good thing. 

love to you both 
John 


414 



To Clifford Odets 


[New York] 
[December 8, 1950] 

Dear Clifford: 

I saw The Country Girl last night, and was moved by the 
lines and the thinking and the sweetness. And as a semi-pro 
I know that the pure theatre can’t be learned but I could wish 
that it might and that I could learn from you. I’ll have to go 
back a few times to pick up subtleties I missed seeing square. 

It is wonderful and my God it’s good to see a fine clean 
thing in this musty time. I have just such a sense of triumph, 
personal triumph, as sometimes comes to me when I hear 
fine music. 

Written with love and admiration. 

John 


Now, after long estrangement, the correspondence 
with his old friend George Albee resumed. 


To George Albee 


[New York] 
December 19, 1950 

Dear George: 

I am going to get a letter off to you on the front edge of the 
hysteria which is about to set in. Elaine and I are going to be 
married on the 28th. Relatives are coming, both hers from 


415 



Texas and mine from California. Christmas eve I have my 
boys. I don’t know whether you ever saw them, they are won- 
derful. The whole thing is fun but hectic. It’s the tight top 
curls of a spiral. 

I was interested in your remarks about success, because I 
have thought quite a lot about it off and on. I never had a 
sense of success. Good notices when the reviewer didn’t 
know what I was talking about gave me a great sense of 
failure. I have a greater sense of goodness in this recent thing 
that closed than 1 have had in years. Book Review Section 
success is a hollow feeling like that one you get in the stom- 
ach when you have the skitters. 

Of course I want the new book to be good. I have wanted 
all of them to be good. But with the others — all of them — I 
had a personal out. I could say — it is just really practice for 
“the book.” If I can’t do this one, the practice was not worth 
it. So you see I feel at once stimulated and scared. The terror 
of starting is invariable but I am more terrified now knowing 
more about technique than I did. There’s a kind of nauseated 
stimulation about going ashore under fire that is not unlike 
this feeling. You know you’re going to do it and it scares the 
shit out of you. I remember one night I went ashore from a 
destroyer in pitch darkness. There wasn’t a sound. Before I 
got in the boat I went to the head to take a pee and my penis 
had disappeared. It had just retired into my abdominal 
cavity. I don’t know whether this is common or not. Anyway 
it is a really shivery feeling. 

Last summer I wrote a little biography of Ed Ricketts. It is 
a curious thing but in doing it I had to go back in my own 
memory to a time I had forgotten. Many things came back — 
warped no doubt and changed and yet strangely whole with 
their feelings and colorings. I would not have them back— 
not any of them no matter how good. And some were very 
good. A year ago I saw a good deal of Carol. I like her but I 
had forgotten why we had to separate. 

I hope to see you soon. 

John 


416 



To Pascal Covici 


Cambridge Beaches 
Somerset, Bermuda 
January 5 [1951] 

Dear Pat: 

I haven’t slept so much since I was a child — about 12 hours 
a day not counting naps which are pretty often. For two days 
we had a baby hurricane but now it is warm and calm. 

I think we were both tireder than we knew. We struggle 
from bed to dining room to beach to bed and end up pooped. 
It is wonderful. And the dreams at night have been strange 
— a kind of autobiographical motion picture going way back 
and, curiously enough, in sequence, also more accurate than 
most dreams. Today is very warm. Elaine is on the beach 
getting some sun. I have to see someone from a newspaper. 

Our pockets and clothes were full of rice. When we got to 
the St. Regis we were dripping rice. Certain nieces of mine 
were responsible. You know I almost wish you had tried to 
trail us that night. Our bags had been taken to the hotel 
much earlier. And we went for a long ride in the park before 
we went to the hotel. Didn’t even have to register. I had done 
that earlier and had the key in my pocket. And the hotel 
would not have admitted that we were there. It was fun, I 
must say. 

I thought the boys conducted themselves very well at the 
wedding, didn’t you? There was one tragedy when they dis- 
covered that Waverly couldn’t go home to live with them. 
They had worked that out for themselves. They were upset 
by that. They thought she was going to move in with them. 

We’ll be leaving next Monday and will be in late that night. 
So we may be back before you get this letter. 

However, now I’m going to the beach and let the reporter 
find me if he can. 

so long 
John 


417 



They moved into their house at 206 East 72nd Street, 
their home for the next thirteen years. On February 
12 Steinbeck began to write “the big novel,” The Sali- 
nas Valley. He wrote it on the right-hand pages of a 
large ledger. Concurrently, on the left-hand pages 
he kept a journal of the progress of the book ad- 
dressed to Pascal Covici. These notes were pub- 
lished posthumously as Journal of a Novel: The East 
of Eden Letters (1969). 

On his birthday, February 27, Steinbeck wrote Bo 
Beskow: 

“Elaine will have told you that we bought a nice 
little house in New York which we are gradually 
furnishing and we don’t much care how long it 
takes. It is a pretty house with a pretty garden. I have 
my own work room in it — the first I have ever had. 
And I am at work on a novel, the longest and most 
ambitious and I hope the best I have done.” 


To Felicia Geffen 

OF THE ACADEMY OF ARTS AND LETTERS 


[206 East 72nd Street] 
[New York] 

February 20, 1951 

Dear Miss Geffen: 

I am sick of seeing Marc Connelly parading in regalia to 
make a peacock squirm while I remain as undecorated as a 
jaybird. Will you please send to me at the above address, any 
regalia, buttons, ribbons, small swords etc., as are befitting to 
my academic grandeur? 

I’ll show that upstart Connelly. 

Yours sincerely 
John Steinbeck 


418 



To Felicia Geffen 


[New York] 
[February 33, 1951] 

Dear Miss GefFen: 

Many thanks for your letter and I shall treasure the buttons 
when they arrive. I must say I am disappointed at the lack 
of regalia. The French Academy meets dressed in cocked 
hats, embroidered vests and small swords. The Spanish 
academicians wear pants made entirely of bird of paradise 
feathers. Why can’t we do something as spectacular and for 
the same reason — ^to cover with finery our depressingly small 
talent? 

I’ve never been to a meeting in my life except before a 
judge. Maybe I will, though, one day soon. 

John Steinbeck 


On April 25th, Miss Geffen wrote to Steinbeck: 

“Mr. Archibald MacLeish has nominated e. e. cum- 
mings and Wallace Stevens for membership in the 
Academy and asks if you would like to be one of the 
other proposers.” 

Steinbeck’s reply, at her suggestion, was at the foot 
of her letter. 


419 



To Felicia GefFen 


[New York] 

[May 1951] 

I am happy to join Archy in his nominations. Do I have the 
right to propose members for the institute? If I do have, I 
wish to propose Richard Rodgers and John O’Hara. Will you 
let me know? Archy could second for O’Hara and Deems 
Taylor can carry out the second in music. It is ridiculous that 
these two are not members. Will you please let me hear what 
comes of this? 

Yours 

John Steinbeck 


And a few days later to Miss Geffen: 

“I would like to go to the Ceremonial on May 25. I 
don’t think I’ve ever seen a ceremonial since I was 
a daisy at the maypole in Salinas.” 

Pascal Covici had been ill, and Steinbeck, con- 
cerned, had taken him for a check-up by his friend 
Dr. Juan Negrin, the neurosurgeon. 


420 



To Pascal Covici 


[New York] 

[1951] 

Wednesday 

Dear Pat: 

I may have spent a worse day than yesterday but I don’t 
recall it. And when 1 went over the record with Juan and saw 
no clot, no tumor, the relief was almost unbearable. But even 
if there had been, there would have been plenty to do. The 
machine does not make mistakes. 

You must have been frightened. I would have been. 

I’m sorry if I was rough yesterday. I was wound up very 
tight and I’m afraid I would have been rougher if necessary. 

But there — ^now I can work. I told you it was a selfish mat- 
ter. I couldn’t stand it if anything happened to you. 

J. 


The Steinbecks rented a house for the summer next 
to Sankaty Light at Siasconset, Nantucket, and in 
mid-June left New York with the boys. 

It was a matter of pride with him that the move from 
New York had not interrupted the flow of his work 
on the novel which continued through the summer. 
References to it were almost entirely confined to the 
day book entries. This explains why, in much of his 
other summer correspondence, he mentioned the 
novel so little. 


421 



To Pascal Covici 


Siasconset, Nantucket 
June i8, 1951 
Monday 

Dear Pat: 

It wasn’t such a bad trip. Didn’t take as long as we had 
thought. Got in to find the lights on, beds made and fires 
lighted. Very pleasant. It was cold the first couple of days 
but now delightfully warm but not hot and fires at night 
so far. 

The boat is not here. If it is not in a very short time I am 
going to be angry and start burning up the wires. 

Went to work this morning and got my quota done by i p.m. 
Boys and Elaine are at the beach. I am going to do a few 
duties and then join them. I shall be happy here if my work 
goes as it should. And I see no reason why it should not. 
Started the sequence about Tom Hamilton this morning. It 
will take most of this week. I will send ms. registered mail 
every Saturday or perhaps Friday afternoon. In any case it 
should be in on Monday. 

We will be glad to see you when you come. Just give us a 
warning. 

I miss the phone calls but will have to get over that. 

Take your medicine and I think it is about time for you 
to go back and see Juan. Call for an appointment. There is 
another thing I have meant to discuss with you. I think 
you should tell Dorothy about this. I can understand your 
wanting to save her worry but such things usually don’t 
save anything. I think you owe it to her to tell her. A 
woman marries a man for the worry as well as the other 
things. And now that it is better, she need not worry. But 
even if it weren’t she deserves to know. Just imagine how 
it would be if she kept something like this from you for 
whatever reason. It’s all a part of trust and sharing. You 
think it over. You don’t really spare her anything and you 
rob her of something that is her right. I hate to lecture 
you but I think I am right about this. Love to you both 
422 



and all three and remind Pascal that we expect him here 
this summer. 

John 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Nantucket 
June 27, 1951 

Dear Elizabeth: 

The work I did today, in fact for the last three days, pleases 
me deeply. I only hope it is interesting. It truly interests me. 

We have a revolt of the children. I guess we must have it 
every year with the big jump from Gwyn’s kind of life to our 
kind of life. But we’re right in the middle of it. I’ll let you 
know how it comes out because we must win. I’m afraid 
we’ve lost a child if we don’t. 

I feel excited and good. Never knew a place with more 
energy than here. The air is full of it. And I like the people 
very much and they seem to like us. 


Saturday 

It was a good but strenuous week. We won the first skir- 
mish with the boys but that is not the whole war. Finished 
a whole section, except possibly one more episode, this week. 
The book does move along. Fingers crossed. Elaine says she 
likes this last week. I am now so completely entangled in my 
story that I don’t know. I’m living about 75 percent in the 
book now. But East of Eden seems to be its title. It has settled 
down and seems permanent. 

Bye for now. 

Love, 

John 


423 



To Pascal Covici 


Nantucket 
July 13, 1951 
Friday 

Dear Pat: 

The ms. which I am putting in the mail at the same time 
I post this will be one day short. I took Thursday off and went 
fishing. I know it doesn’t really matter that I keep to ten pages 
a week but it is a kind of good feeling that I can do it. 

The fishing trip got no fish and I got a painful sun burn but 
out of it I got a whole new extension of the book. I guess I 
never really do stop working. 

Yesterday, out on the water, I got a funny thought about 
you. You have been publishing things for many years and 
there must be a special feeling a publisher has for a book. 
The failure, or denunciation or attack or praise of a book 
would arouse an emotion but it would be a publisher’s emo- 
tion. Now for the first time, although I may be wrong, I think 
you will have to experience writer’s emotions. I think you are 
so close to the making of it, that an attack on the book, even 
a raised eyebrow will send you into a rage. You are not used 
to writer’s emotions as I am. I think you will be more deeply 
hurt by attack and more proud of praise than I will be be- 
cause it will be your first experience. 

In your last letter, you said you liked to do the errands I ask. 
Will you do one more very silly one for me? Again it concerns 
Abercrombie & Fitch. First I would like you to go there and 
ask whether they have a section or a personnel which takes 
care of queries by mail. Second, in either the boat depart- 
ment or the gun department, probably the latter, they used 
to have small cannons for starting yacht races. They were 
pretty little things and they fired lo-gauge shotgun blanks. I 
would like you to go and inquire about them — ^whether they 
still have them. How much they cost and how much the 
blanks cost. Then I would like you to put this information on 
a separate page in your next letter to me so that I may put it 
aside and not show it to Elaine. My reason is both absurd and 

424 



good. On her birthday I would like to fire her a 21-gun salute 
and I don’t want her to know about it. Her birthday is August 
14 and she puts great stock in it. There it is, now back to work. 

[unsigned] 


Celebration of Elaine Steinbeck’s birthday loomed 
large. 

“Only one thing we lack,” he wrote Elizabeth Otis at 
the end of July, “and maybe someone in the office 
will do it for us, or rather me. We can’t have Elaine’s 
birthday without Japanese lanterns. Could about i 
doz. of them be bought and sent to me? Just the solid 
color kind in various colors. I would be awfully 
pleased if you could have this done. Elaine thinks 
she is not going to have any this year.” 


To Mr. and Mrs. Elia Kazan 


Nantucket 
July 30, 1951 

Dear Molly and Gadg: 

Elaine has been carrying the mail for me. I, the furious 
letter writer, seem to have retired from the scene. Have 
reached the “I am well, how are you, yrs sincerely” stage. 

Look what date it is! Isn’t that remarkable and terrible? 
Half the summer is over and I can hardly believe it. I have 
about 600 pages of my book done and about 3 or 400 to go. At 
last I have a title for it which I Uke. See if you do. It is East 
of Eden. It is perfect for this book and it sounds like a very 
soft title until you read the first 16 verses of the 4th chapter 
of Genesis. The title comes from the i6th verse but the whole 
passage is applicable. Please don’t tell my title yet. But it is 


425 



the one I am going to use. I think the book is pretty good. It’s 
what I want to write anyway. It’s long but it covers nearly a 
hundred years and three generations and you can’t do that if 
it is short. I seem to have been writing it all my life and in 
one sense I have. I should finish the first draft about Hal- 
lowe’en. 

We have two birthdays next month. Thom’s is Aug. 2 and 
Elaine’s is Aug. 14. Both will be observed with festivities and 
lanterns. I am giving Elaine the damndest presents, and 
don’t you tell but they may amuse you because most of them 
are so unlady-like. i. a genuine Dodger baseball cap to wear 
when she watches her team, 2. a Swedish steel bow and a 
rack of beautiful arrows (archery is her favorite sport), 3. a 
Colt woodsman .22 automatic pistol. Those are the active 
presents. Then a painting, and a greenhouse for the garden 
in New York. Also I have arranged for a 21-gun salute (a real 
one) to her on her birthday. But all that is the deepest secret. 

I have purposely put off asking about Zapata because I 
know you will tell me when you can. 

Love to all of you and we miss you very much. 



To Mr. and Mrs. Pascal Covici 

WHO HAD BEEN VISITING 


Nantucket 
[August 1951] 

Dear Pat and Dorothy — 

I want to say that I am sorry for my beastly disposition. I 
guess I threw a pall over your nice dinner last night and I 
didn’t want nor intend to. My nerve ends were spurting hot 
little flames and sounds crashed on me like waves. It had 
nothing to do with anyone but me. And I have not Elaine’s 
strength to cover and dissemble such a feeling. I was in a 
nervous collapse. I’m sorry if I made you sad. Last night all 
night I had it and today it is better. Please believe that it had 
426 



absolutely nothing to do with anything but my own insides. 
It is some inner confusion that comes on me sometimes with 
a frightening intensity. Forgive it please. 

It has been good to have you here. I’m glad you have got to 
know the boys and they surely share our love for you both. I 
hope, in spite of my ugliness that you had some joy and rest 
here. It was a joy to have you. 

A book is so long. It takes so much. It must be desperately 
hard to live with and I do not envy Elaine having to do it. And 
when it boils over, as it did last night it must be pure hell. I’m 
all right today. And I have no explanation. 

Thank you both for everything, the lovely presents and 
Thom’s birthday and all. 

Love to you both and happy landing. 

John 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Nantucket 
August i6, 1951 
Thursday 

Dear Elizabeth: 

The birthday is over and it was a humdinger and I think 
Elaine was happy with it. I am going to leave birthday telling 
to Elaine. I worked into Sunday and finished Book III so that 
now I have just one more book in this novel. And I start it 
after a rest and a change .which is good because it is different 
from the rest, in time, pace, and everything. I am still not 
bored with it. And I should be by this time. But it is, if any- 
thing, more alive to me than ever. And I feel a hugeness in 
my chest out of which I hope pigmies do not come. The last 
book will be between 70 and 80 thousand words or roughly 
two more months of work if I am lucky. So it is still on sched- 
ule even though I have tried to keep schedule out of it. We 
have just one more month here. It looks now as though Way 
might be able to come, which will make us very happy. And 
I’ll have to get ready for a whole new kind of life when this 


427 



book is done (if I am to live at all) because with East of Eden 
one part of my life is finished. But even that is fun to contem- 
plate. It is a very big book, Elizabeth. I don’t know whether 
or not it is very good but I am sure it is the very best and 
purest of which I am capable, given my faults and virtues 
and training. It is going down on paper and there are no 
complaints or excuses. It’s all I have ever learned and it is 
really good to be out on this gigantic limb. I can’t say — “I 
might have done better — ” because I mightn’t. And I’m glad. 

I’ll be ready to go home in a month. I miss you and I like 
our new house. The boys won’t want to go. They have had a 
fine summer. Isn’t it odd that I speak inside myself as though 
it were over. In a way it is I guess — two thirds of it. The last 
10 days have been muggy and thick and foggy, old timers say 
the longest stretch of it in lo years. We’ll be glad of a change 
to storm and cold and wind. 

Well, I guess that’s all. I have many things to discuss with 
you but they aren’t immediate and they are better answered 
in our living room with the first fires of fall burning. And that 
won’t be long. 

Love to you all, 
John 


To Pascal Covici 


[Nantucket] 
[September ii, 1951] 
Tuesday 

Dear Pat: 

I am so punchy that I forget whether I have written to you 
or not. I’m saturated with story and with many outside mat- 
ters. The really deep tiredness is creeping up but I’m pretty 
sure I have two or three months more of this kind of energy. 
And it is a very curious kind of energy. I have never used so 
much of it for so long a period. I have worked more wordage 
for shorter periods. I have been much longer on this for in- 
stance even now than I was on the Grapes of Wrath. I am 

428 



fascinated with this week’s work. As you are becoming 
aware, I hope — Cal is my baby. He is the Everyman, the 
battle ground between good and evil, the most human of all, 
the sorry man. In that battle the survivor is both. I have been 
trying to think how long it is since a book about morality has 
been written. That is not to say that all books are not about 
morality but I mean openly. 

Now the summer closes. We will get up at four in the morn- 
ing on Sunday and tool our way homeward. And we have had 
our triumphs this summer in addition to the work. Thom has 
taken great jumps. Elaine almost despaired a number of 
times but at the end of the summer Thom can read and do 
his arithmetic. He will start ahead of his class, and more 
important, he knows he can start. The block is gone. Catbird 
is the one who might have the trouble. He is so gifted in 
charm and cleverness and beauty that he will not have to go 
through the fire for a long time if ever. Poor Thom has it 
early and will have it long. But he will be fired and there is 
no fire without heat. We have done well this summer if you 
were to make a score. I do not feel ashamed. Now if I can only 
get a good book too, it would be fine. 

Your letter came, Pat, and we’ll have to take a rain check 
on that dinner Monday night. The boys won’t be with us and 
we’ll be so tired after moving and unpacking that we will 
probably fall into bed. Besides, 1 am going to try to get back 
to work on Tuesday so that 1 will lose only one day. The book 
isn’t done, remember. I wish the move were over. I kind of 
dread it. 

Anyway — we’ll probably talk to you when we get in. 

John 


Of the work in progress, he wrote Elizabeth Otis on 
September 12 ; 

“It goes on just the same. God knows how long. It 
comes to a terrible climax about a week or two after 
I get back. I had hoped to reach that point before I 
left here and it is possible that I may. But who 
knows? 1 can’t dictate to it. It takes its own way.” 

429 



Shortly after their return to New York in September, 
Steinbeck, who had been worried for a long time 
about Annie Laurie Williams’ health, visited her at 
the hospital as she was recovering from a serious 
illness. 


To Annie Laurie Williams 


POSTCARD 


[New York] 
[September 1951] 
Thursday 

Dearest A. L.: 

I can’t tell you how happy my visit with you made me. You 
not only looked well physically but there was something else 
even more important. The old fighting flash was in the eyes 
again and I came away on clouds. As you must know, I have 
been pretty despondent about you and then yesterday every- 
thing seemed to point with a very steady finger at a long fine 
life. 

When I came home Elaine said, “I haven’t seen you look so 
happy for a long time.” We had a drink to you and last night 
I really slept for the first time in a long time and this morning 
I awakened with gladness. Now to work. Bless you. 


John 


As testimony to the affection he felt for her, this is 
what he wrote her many years later: 

“We have been through so many worlds together, 
you and I. Some of them didn’t exist and some we 
saved from existing. We are old now, you and I, but 
I think we can say we have not let the standards 
down. Mean and tough and loving. And never taking 

430 




an unearned penny nor trusting an unearned com- 
pliment. Health to you and good spearing. Elaine 
sends love but I think no one knows what we have 
seen together.” 


To Bo Beskow 


New York 
November i6 [1951] 

Dear Bo: 

I finished my book a week ago. Just short of a thousand 
pages — 265,000 words. Much the longest and surely the most 
difficult work I have ever done. Now I am correcting and 
rewriting and that will take until Christmas. 

Anyway it is done and not quite all a relief. I miss it. You 
can’t live that intimately with anything and not miss it when 
it dies. Such a thing must be a great strain on a woman but 
Elaine has stood by wonderfully. What a good wife. 

Bo, I am sorry your girl and a new life did not work out and 
I am particularly sorry because I have such a good life now. 
Do you know — I will be 50 on my next birthday, isn’t that 
amazing? I don’t feel fifty. I’ve my contemporaries — ^many of 
them and they are old and disappointed men. I don’t think I 
feel older than I did 20 or 30 years ago. In many ways I feel 
younger. The strain is off mostly. But the figures are there 
and at 50 one’s life expectancy has dwindled considerably. So 
I am going to have as much fun and excitement as it is 
possible for me to have with the time that remains to me. In 
my book just finished I have put all the things I have wanted 
to write all my life. This is “the book.” If it is not good I have 
fooled myself all the time. I don’t mean I will stop but this is 
a definite milestone and I feel released. Having done this I 
can do anything I want. Always I had this book waiting to be 
written. But understand please that this is only half the book. 
There will be another one equally long. This one runs from 
1863 to 1918. The next will take the time from 1918 to the 
present. But I won’t start it for a year or perhaps two years. 


431 



I hope you will write to me soon 
is with you. I want to hear. 


and let me know how it 
John 


When John O’Hara published The Farmers Hotel 
and received some bad reviews, Steinbeck hastened 
to write him. 


To John O’Hara 


[New York] 
[November 26, 1951] 

Dear John: 

Don’t let these neat, dry, cautious, stupid untalented 
leeches on the arts get you down. It’s a hell of a good book. 
I wrote a letter to the Times differing with Miss Janeway. 

They just won’t forgive originality and you’ll have to get 
used to that. Have you found too that the same people who 
kicked the hell out of Appointment when it came out — now 
want you to write it over and over? 

Hoch der Christmas 

love to Belle, 

John 


I’ve got one hell of a rewrite job to do. 


432 



The manuscript of East of Eden was delivered to 
Pascal Covici in a box which Steinbeck had carved 
out of a piece of solid mahogany during the summer 
in Nantucket. The letter accompanying it which fol- 
lows appeared as the dedication of the book. 


To Pascal Covici 


[New York] 
December 1951 
[Christmas] 

Dear Pat — 

Do you remember you came upon me carving some kind of 
little figure out of wood and you said — 

“Why don’t you make something for me?” 

I asked you what you wanted and you said — 

“A box.” 

“What for?” 

“To put things in.” 

“What things?” 

“Whatever you have,” you said. 

Well here’s your box. Nearly everything I have is in it and 
it is not full. All pain and excitement is in it and feeling good 
or bad and evil thoughts and good thoughts — the pleasure of 
design and some despair and the indescribable joy of crea- 
tion. 

And on top of these are all the gratitude and love I bear for 
you. 

And still the box is not full. 

John 


433 



To Bo Beskow 


[New York] 
January 21 [1952] 

Dear Bo; 

I was getting worried to the point of cabling when your 
letter came — the usual thoughts of illness and disaster. We 
do inspire ourselves with danger. I was glad to get your letter 
and to be reassured that it was the windows not the winds. 

The year movfs frantically. I am working against time 
rewriting my lor g book. I have one third yet to go — and the 
hardest part. We have a ship — due to sail between Feb. 25 and 
March ist. She will be 31 days to Alexandria, if that is still 
terra grata. I have never been in Egypt. I am learning Shaw’s 
lines to howl at the Sphinx — “Hail Sphinx, I have seen many 
sphinxes but no other Caesar — .” It should be a ridiculous 
spectacle. You should be there to see — and laugh. I shall peer 
into tombs not the most pleasant of which is Farouk. We 
shall be known as the new Hyksos and I may even build a 
small duplex pyramid which when ruinous and that won’t 
take long, will be known to the Arabs as Selim al Bowery, or 
Steinbeck’s Folly, a veritable hunting box for Ka birds in 
season. The Egyptians haven’t been allowed to have a war of 
their own since Alexander’s chief of staff— Ptolemy McAr- 
thur, took up squatter’s rights. They are making the most of 
their new toy war with Israel. This means we have to go to 
Cyprus to get visa-ed to Israel. In Israel we will turn over the 
stones of our culture or perhaps some of the prophecies of 
our future. Then probably back to Greece where we will 
raise again the Eleusinean chant on the plain of Marathon. 
In Rome we’ll buy a car and move slowly up the continent 
like a new Ice Age. You will know of our coming by plague 
and flood and famine and civil commotion. I have the dis- 
tinct advantage of speaking no language, fluently and loudly. 
We have no plans after leaving Rome except to see every- 
thing. Simple tastes! It’s an idiot’s voyage and I plan to enjoy 
it thoroughly. The world has been coming to an end for too 
many thousands of years for me to hope to be in on the death 

434 



kick. And I remember my first story of doom. We read it in 
the first grade. It went: 

“Henny Penny was scratching under a pea-vine when a 
pea fell on her tail. ‘Oh!’ screamed Henny Penny — ‘the sky is 
falling.’ Anyway she managed to get all the chickens so upset 
that they formed an army and bombed the hell out of a duck- 
yard next door and the ducks opened up with high explosives 
and nearly everybody got killed and lived happily ever after. 
And when it was all over Henny Penny had the only pea left 
in the world so she started a pea cartel and right now her 
descendants own Manhattan Island and spend their winters 
in Cannes.” 

Seriously. I am so anxious to see you— and this time I will. 



To John O’Hara 


[New York] 
[February 1952] 

Dear John: 

What a courteous memory you have. You did remember 
how I admired your hat. I shall wear the one you sent, and 
only it, on the jaunt through history we are about to make. 
Thank you. It should however have a plate on it and I think 
I will put one on, saying — 

THE JOHN O’HARA MEMORIAL HAT 

Thank you again. I’ll wear a feather in the hat because you 
gave it to me. 

Love and all wishes to you and to Belle and to Wiley, the 
serpent of the Rappahannock [their daughter]. 

John 


435 



To Pascal Covici 


New York 
[1952] 

Tuesday 

Dear Pat: 

I have been going over the years in my mind, remembering 
all the things pre-publication critics have asked me to take 
out, things they would now be horrified at if I had. 

One of the most dangerous things of all is the suggestion 
that something or other is not in good taste. Now good taste 
is a codification of manners and attitudes of the past. The 
very fact of originality is per se bad taste. I might even go so 
far as to believe that any writer who produced a book of 
unquestioned good taste has written a tasteless book, a flavor- 
less book, a book of no excitement and surely of no original- 
ity. There is no taste in life nor in nature. It is simply the way 
it is. And in the rearrangement of life called literature, the 
writer is the less valuable and interesting in direct relation 
to his goodness of taste. There is shocking bad taste in the Old 
Testament, abominable taste in Homer, and execrable taste 
in Shakespeare. 

Thinking about it, I believe that the following may be 
true. When a book is finished but not yet printed there is a 
well-intentioned urge, particularly in non-creative people, 
to help, to be part of it, and this urge takes itself out in 
suggestions for its improvement. It would not occur to me 
to make such suggestions to another writer because I 
know he must have a reason for everything in his book. 
But also I do not need the free creative ride. As I said, 
these impulses are kindly meant and they are almost in- 
variably wrong. 

And so you and I will do what we have done — listen with 
respect, correct the errors, weigh the criticism and then go 
about our business. I do not think that all the things in my 
books are good but all the things in my book are me. There 
is no quicker way to ruin any book than to permit collabora- 



tions. Then it becomes a nothing and a bad something has a 
way of being superior to a good nothing. The second-hand 
bookstalls are loaded with good taste. No. We know this story. 
We’ve been through it together so many times. 

We’ll do fine. 

Yours, 

John 


That was damn good pie 


The following letter appeared as the final passage of 
Journal of a Novel. 


To Pascal Covici 


[New York] 
I1952] 

Dear Pat: 

I have decided for this, my book. East of Eden, to write 
dedication, prologue, argument, apology, epilogue and per- 
haps epitaph all in one. 

The dedication is to you with all the admiration and affec- 
tion that have been distilled from our singularly blessed as- 
sociation of many years. This book is inscribed to you be- 
cause you have been part of its birth and growth. 

As you know, a prologue is written last but placed first to 
explain the book’s shortcomings and to ask the reader to be 
kind. But a prologue is also a note of farewell from the writer 
to his book. For years the writer and his book have been 
together — friends or bitter enemies but very close as only 
love and fighting can accomplish. 


437 



Then suddenly the book is done. It is a kind of death. This 
is the requiem. 

Miguel Cervantes invented the modern novel and with his 
Don Quixote set a mark high and bright. In his prologue, he 
said best what writers feel — the gladness and the terror. 

“Idling reader,” Cervantes wrote, “you may believe me 
when I tell you that I should have liked this book, which is 
the child of my brain, to be the fairest, the sprightliest and 
the cleverest that could be imagined, but I have not been able 
to contravene the law of nature which would have it that like 
begets like — ” 

And so it is with me, Pat. Although some times I have felt 
that I held fire in my hands and spread a page with shining 
— I have never lost the weight of clumsiness, of ignorance, of 
aching inability. 

A book is like a man — clever and dull, brave and cowardly, 
beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be 
a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping 
flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold 
the feathers firm too near the sun. 

Well — then the book is done. It has no virtue any more. The 
writer wants to cry out — “Bring it back! Let me rewrite it or 
better — Let me burn it. Don’t let it out in the unfriendly cold 
in that condition.” 

As you know better than most, Pat, the book does not go 
from writer to reader. It goes first to the lions — editors, pub- 
lishers, critics, copy readers, sales department. It is kicked 
and slashed and gouged. And its bloodied father stands attor- 
ney. 


EDITOR 

The book is out of balance. The reader expects one thing 
and you give him something else. You have written two 
books and stuck them together. The reader will not under- 
stand. 


WRITER 

No, sir. It goes together. I have written about one family 
and used stories about another family as — well, as counter- 
point, as rest, as contrast in pace and color. 

EDITOR 

The reader won’t understand. What you call counterpoint 
only slows the book. 

438 



WRITER 

It has to be slowed — else how would you know when it goes 
fast? 


EDITOR 

You have stopped the book and gone into discussions of 
God knows what. 


WRITER 

Yes, I have. I don’t know why. Just wanted to. Perha^ I was 
wrong. 


SALES DEPARTMENT 

The book’s too long. Costs are up. We’ll have to charge five 
dollars for it. People won’t pay $5. They won’t buy it. 

WRITER 

My last book was short. You said then that people won’t buy 
a short book. 

PROOFREADER 

The chronology is full of holes. The grammar has no rela- 
tion to English. On page so-and-so you have a man look in the 
World Almanac for steamship rates. They aren’t there. I 
checked. You’ve got Chinese New Year wrong. The charac- 
ters aren’t consistent. You describe Liza Hamilton one way 
and then have her act a different way. 

EDITOR 

You make Cathy too black. The reader won’t believe her. 
You make Sam Hamilton too white. The reader won’t believe 
him. No Irishman ever talked like that. 

WRITER 

My grandfather did. 

EDITOR 

Who’ll believe it? 

SECOND EDITOR 

No children ever talked like that. 

WRITER 

(Losing temper as a refuge from despair) 

God damn it. This is my book. I’ll make the children talk 
any way I want. My book is about good and evil. Maybe the 
theme got into the execution. Do you want to publish it or 
not? 


439 



EDITORS 

Let’s see if we can’t fix it up. It won’t be much work. You 
want it to be good, don’t you? For instance, the ending. The 
reader won’t understand it. 

WRITER 

Do you? 

EDITOR 

Yes, but the reader won’t. 

PROOFREADER 

My God, how you do dangle a participle. Turn to page so- 
and-so. 


There you are, Pat. You came in with a box of glory and 
there you stand with an arm full of damp garbage. 

And from this meeting a new character has emerged. He 
is called The Reader. 


THE READER 

He is so stupid you can’t trust him with an idea. 

He is so clever he will catch you in the least error. 

He will not buy short books. 

He will not buy long books. 

He is part moron, part genius and part ogre. 

There is some doubt as to whether he can read. 

Well, by God, Pat he’s just like me, no stranger at all. He’ll 
take from the book what he can bring to it. The dull-witted 
will get dullness and the brilliant may find things in my book 
I didn’t know were there. 

And just as he is like me, I hope my book is enough like him 
so that he may find in it interest and recognition and some 
beauty as one finds in a friend. 

Cervantes ends his prologue with a lovely line. I want to 
use it, Pat, and then I will have done. 

He said to the reader, 

“May God give you health. And may He be not unmindful 
of me, as well.” 

John Steinbeck 


440 



^ (jL*AAXcLL^*i^ 


. . sitting at Stanford 
wistijng I were 
sitting on a rock 
in VaciGc Qrove 
wistijng I were 
in Mexico.” 







On assignment by Collier’s — he to write, she to 
photograph — the Steinbecks left in March for six 
months in Europe. They went to North Africa,’ 
crossed to Marseilles, rented a car and toured in 
Spain. 



Pascal Covici 


[Palace Hotel] 
[Madrid] 

April i8 [1952] 

Dear Pat: 

We’ve been nearly a week in Madrid now and go back to 
Seville for the great fiesta on Monday. 

We have been seeing many pictures — at The Prado and 
today at Toledo to see the many fine Grecos. So many impres- 
sions. Maybe too many. Hard to take in in a short time, a little 
stunning in fact. Come in dog tired. 

We did not have mail forwarded so haven’t heard much of 
anything. Letter from Kazan saying he had testified [before 
the House Committee on Un-American Activities]. He had 
told me he was going to a long time ago. I wonder whether 
it made a sensation. He sent us a copy of his statement which 
I thought good. It must be a very hard decision to make. He 
is a good and honest man. I hope the Communists and the 
second raters don’t cut him to pieces now. But they can’t hurt 
him very much. 

I haven’t written anything. Going through a fallow time. 


443 



which, as usual, bothers me. Actually so much coming in 
there hasn’t been time for much to go out. And my pen has 
gone rusty. 

I’ll try to write more often. 

love to all 
John 


To Pascal Covici 


Hotel Lancaster 
Paris 

May 12, 1952 

Arrived in Paris yesterday but late at night after 28 hours 
on the train from Madrid. Now we are in this comfortable 
hotel. I have slept myself out and tomorrow morning I am 
going to start on my first piece about Spain. It will be a plea- 
sure to begin putting some of it down. This is the longest 
stretch without writing within my recent memory. Have 
seen some strange and reversing things. I hope I can make 
some sense of it when I start writing it down. Spain wasn’t 
what we expected. I wonder what it was! It is a completely 
contradictory country. Everything you say or see or think is 
cancelled out by something else you see. It is a country about 
which it is impossible to make generalities. And yet how can 
you write a piece about it if you don’t think one way or an- 
other. Paradoxes as verities? I think the best way is to set it 
down just as it happened and to let the sense of paradox grow 
out of the material just as it has out of my seeing. 

Paris is always wonderful — ^both recognized and new every 
time. This time the chestnuts are blooming and the trees are 
in full leaf and it is the core of spring. 

Here I plan to buy a little French car (to be sold when we 
leave Europe) to drive to Italy and all over. 

One thing will interest you. I had been told that my works 
were not permitted in Spain. This is not true. And it seems 
that they are very popular. Maybe I got a sense of self-impor- 

444 




tance by thinking my books were banned in Spain. Maybe a 
kind of martyr complex. Well, they aren’t, so there’s a good 
hair shirt ruined. 

I do hope I’ll hear from you soon and I hope you’ll send me 
a galley. Galley hell! you’ll hhve books in a short time. 

love to all, 
John 


Though later the relationship as correspondent for 
Collier’s proved happy, the magazine rejected his 
first piece on Spain. 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Paris 

May 26, 1952 

Dear Elizabeth: 

Your letter this morning with Colliers’ reaction to the first 
piece. This first piece was written to order. I won’t make that 
mistake again. I enclose the wire specifying the kind of piece 
required. If you can see how I could have covered all of these 
fields in a whole nation in 5,000 words by any other method 
I’ll eat it. Maybe I could have done better but not much differ- 
ent. It may turn out that they don’t want my stuff at all but 
Colliers stuff with my name on it. As for its not being my kind 
of stuff, that’s balderdash. One wants Tortilla Flat and an- 
other Grapes of Wrath. I tvrite all kinds of stuff. I will not 
again follow their rules. They can accept or reject, but I will 
not work it over and over until it sounds like Quent Reynolds. 
I will send many pieces. No two will be alike. They under- 
stood this or said they did. I’m not a bit upset by this. In fact 
I anticipated it. They will have plenty to choose from but 


445 




they will have to choose, not create. If they reject, we’ll try 
to sell it elsewhere and if no one wants it we’ll throw it away. 

It is certain that we have changed our plans. We changed 
them to match conditions we didn’t know about in advance. 
Pat writes saying I should go to Israel, Manning [Gordon 
Manning, a Collier’s editor] thinks I should go to the Slovak 
border. I am going to the Jura. If they think I am hanging 
around Paris too long — let them. I have been gathering a 
sense of Europe here. I know where to go now and what for. 
I could not have known without coming here. This is not a 
city desk assignment. This is no quarrel — only a restatement 
of an understanding. 

I don’t know whether the second piece I just sent off will 
be acceptable to Colliers either, nor the piece on the Jura but 
I’ll do them anyway. Elaine is working hard with the camera 
but there is no way for her to learn. They want her to send 
in the undeveloped film and she never hears how it comes 
out. There is no way to correct a mistake if you don’t know 
what it is. This sounds like a beefing letter and in a way it is, 
but now it is over. 

We took a trial run in the little car yesterday (named '‘Aux 
Armes O Citroen”) and it is very good. 

We feel pretty good. There is a kind of weariness from 
seeing too much and trying to take in too much. But there’s 
not any help for that. 

I hope you had fun in Maine. 

I’m sending a box of things for Catbird on his birthday but 
I’ll try to send them by hand so he will surely get them. 

Love and kisses to everyone, 

John 


Later the same day, in another letter to Elizabeth 
Otis, he wrote: 

“I do hate the feeling of a hot breath down my neck. 
It doesn’t bring out the best in me nor even the 
sweetest.” 


And afterward he was to be even more specific: 
446 



“There are two distinct crafts, writing and writing 
for someone. The second requires a kind of second 
sight with which I do not seem to be gifted. In writ- 
ing you put down an idea or a story and then see 
whether anyone likes it, but in writing for someone 
you must first, during and after, keep an invisible 
editor sitting on the typewriter shaking an admoni- 
tory finger in your face. It is a special business and 
one I don’t seem to learn very easily.” 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Paris 

May 27, 1952 

Dear Elizabeth: 

Time and space are rather terrible things. Yesterday I 
wrote and sent to you a very ill-natured letter. Last night we 
went out with the Loessers. They were fighting and for a time 
we caught it but saved ourselves. It was as though a kind of 
evil gas had spread. 

This morning an angry letter from Way answering an an- 
gry letter from Elaine. By now Way has forgotten there ever 
was any trouble. By the time you get my bad-tempered letter, 
I shall have forgotten all about it and you will be irritated. 
New rule — “People who are more than one hour apart should 
never write letters.” 

We are not leaving until Wednesday. We are going to stay 
with the Frenchman in his house which he says has a toilet 
but no water [a school teacher and vintner in the Jura who 
had invited the Steinbecks to visit him]. He says we can stay 
at an hotel — ^but I would rather stay with him. He has three 
daughters and he says — “They have many friends who I 
hope will not bother you.” This is a great thing for me. I will 
be able to see French lower middle class farmer life as I 
could not in any other way. I don’t know how long I will stay 
but I will surely stay until I get a true sense of people, think- 
ing and way of life. It is a wonderful chance. 

Ridgway gets in today and every preparation is being made 


447 


for riots and counter riots. I will go out and see. 

I am being interviewed by Combat which is a left wing 
Communist paper but unofficial. I have been interviewed by 
the Monde — conservative — so must be by the other. By the 
way, being interviewed is the best way of getting informa- 
tion. The very nature of a question can tell you a great deal. 

Last night I read from the galleys of E of E and it is better 
than I thought. Doesn’t print make a great difference 
though? 

Have you heard about the signs in Paris? The Communists 
have written all over the walls Americans go home and crews 
have followed, painted “Via Pan American” and after them 
“Revenez Via Air France.” It has completely destroyed the 
effect of the Communists’ work. 

I guess one of the reasons for my ill nature is that I am 
worried about money. We are not spending too much here 
but I can’t seem to get ahead at all and it is a constant nag- 
ging worry. I think I am working as hard as I can and I can 
just barely keep my head above water. 

Love to all, 
John 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Geneva 
June 2 , 1952 

Dear Elizabeth; 

Now how did it get to be that date? I have the old duality 
— ^time has flown and at the same time we have been away 
forever. 

We drove out of Paris in the little car Aux Armes. It 
behaves beautifully. Stayed the first night in Dijon where 
the streets are not paved with mustard. The second day 
we drove to Poligny in the Jura. Do you remember Louis 
Gibry to whom you once sent fruit trees? Well they are all 
growing and their branches are being used to graft other 
trees so that the original trees you sent are spreading all 

448 




over. He lives in a little old house in a peasant street, no 
plumbing, no inside toilet, three little girls, two hunting 
dogs, flies, crumbs, bees from the hives in the yard, shout- 
ing of neighbors and birds, street full of cows, a fine dust 
of manure over everything. He would not hear of our go- 
ing to a hotel. We had his guest room. We went into the 
wine caves, visited every one and were visited by every- 
one. If you didn’t watch carefully the dogs got your dinner 
— the whole place crawling with children. Wines were 
brought in from the bottoms of cellars. We went to tiny 
towns famous for wines and drank the best and ate cheese 
and loaves of bread as long as ourselves. We heard much 
talk. Elaine took many pictures. 

Yesterday we pried ourselves loose against protest and 
proceeded to Geneva. We were filthy — ^we do not know 
how to keep clean with bowl and pitcher and cold water. 
We and the car were deep in cow manure. And we landed 
in this sweet and immaculate country. In Paris we met 
Faye Emerson and she had just come from here. She said, 
“Remember how you always heard of a place where you 
could eat off the floor? Well, I’ve just seen it.” As for us, 
we had just come from the Jura where you can barely eat 
off the table. We got in and began taking baths, one after 
another. I finally have the odor of cheese, cows, people, 
dogs and wine caves off me and all my clothes are being 
cleaned. 

We both suddenly became homesick last week. It is the 
proper time for it. It usually happens at three months. I think 
it was all the children in Louis Gibry’s house that did it. It 
surely was not the backyard toilet. However, we will get over 
that. 

Later: We have been walking all over Geneva all day and our 
feet are tired and hot and now we are about to dip into a 
martini which is a specific for tired feet. There is one very 
nice thing about this city — ^absolutely nothing of a lively na- 
ture to do at night. The result is that we are getting some 
sleep. I ordered a double martini of course — ^half for each 
foot. 

My French gets worse every day as it gets more fluent. A 
man in a shop today after listening to me a while said in 
well-modulated Enghsh, “What in hell are you trying to 
say?” I guess I was being too subtle. 


449 



In Paris we knew every second person we saw. Here we 
have not seen a soul of our acquaintance. What a joy it is, at 
least for a change. 

I know there is no great need to keep in touch. But it does 
bother me. I guess it is largely the constant and never-chang- 
ing sense of impending tragedy concerning the boys. I wish 
I could lose that. But I never have. 

Last night we had a lovely dinner on the terrace of this 
hotel which practically hangs over the lake. It was incredi- 
bly beautifxil and the evening went on for hours. 

John 


To Annie Laurie Williams 


Hassler Hotel 
Rome 

June 17 [1952] 

Dear Annie Laurie. 

We got in here last night and your letter was waiting for us. 
It is very hot in Rome, I am sitting in my shorts in an open 
window writing this. 

Gadg [Kazan] called this morning from Paris. He says he is 
absolutely crazy about East of Eden and wants to do it. He 
says he is going to talk to Zanuck about it. He says he wants 
to do it whether Zanuck does or not, under United Artists 
independently or something like that. He told me that Zapata 
has already grossed three million dollars. He wants to work 
out some kind of deal where we own a chunk of the picture 
and can share in the profits. I told him to call you when he 
gets in town. You know of course that this Congress thing 
tore him to pieces. He is just getting back on his feet and 
sounded fine on the phone. And as you know I would rather 
work with him than with anyone I know. We know that 
works. He is the very best and there is no doubt at all in my 
mind about that. 

Well, the summer moves on and it has a kind of dream-like 


450 




quality. Soon it will be over and then as usual it is as though 
it had never been. 

love to all there 
John 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Rome 

June 23, 1952 
Monday today 

Dear Elizabeth: 

Drudi’s [Gabriella Drudi, Steinbeck’s Italian literary agent] 
office is giving a monster cocktail party this afternoon in my 
honor. You know how I loathe them. But I seem to have to do 
this one. All last night and a good part of today with the most 
violent stomach cramps and dysentery which does not make 
any kind of party seem very desirable. I shall have a number 
of glasses of iced tea, which looks lethal and will keep me 
from retching. 

I have a kind of a desolate feeling of failure in this whole 
trip. I wish I could talk to Mr. Anthony [Edward Anthony, 
publisher of Collier’s] again. I like him. What I would like to 
tell him is that when you have finished a long piece of work 
any work seems easy. You know as well as I do that I have 
never turned out a really easy piece of copy in my life. I 
wonder why I always fool myself and, through myself, other 
people. But I don’t think I fool you. But here I am trapped 
again in my own upswings of enthusiasm. The easy way in 
which I can turn out the pretties of copy. Just interview a few 
people, take some pictures and there you are. Well I can’t do 
it. These articles are going to be just exactly as hard as any- 
thing I have ever done. And it is troubling me that I have 
fooled people. Will you tell Mr. Anthony that? The whole 
thing is making me sick and putting a pressure on me that 
makes it impossible for me to work well. But the main thing 
I want you to tell him is that I will do the work and I will do 
it if it takes the rest of my life. I did not intentionally fool him 


451 



or any of them. I fooled myself. Maybe this upset is caused 
by a block of this kind. But I think I will feel better about it 
if you will tell that one man. 

The first of my cool clothes are supposed to arrive this 
afternoon— and at that moment they did and it is such a 
relief. 

I’m going to leave this letter open to tell you about the 
cocktail party. I will put on my pretty new cool clothes and 
get ready for the guillotine. That is exactly what I feel like. 

Love, 

John 


To Roberto Rossellini and 
Ingrid Bergman 


Paris 

July 23, 1952 

Dear Roberto and Ingrid: 

We were sorry not to see you again, but you were busy and 
we were frantic. However, we were glad to have seen as 
much of you as we did and I was particularly glad at last to 
meet Roberto. 

I hope things are easing up for you now and that there can 
be some relaxation for a while. You are in good hands and 
I must say I feel much better for you. Let Giesler do it all for 
you. He can and will do it well and at least you will know that 
you have a man who is for you, not against you. 

We leave tomorrow for London and thence to Ireland, and 
then if we have a little more time, to Ingrid’s home town for 
a week. 

I am going to make the Ibsen play The Vikings at Hel- 
goland in Stockholm next summer. It will make a very 
fine picture. You will remember I discussed it with you a 
long time ago. Probably make it in the archipelago. There 
is a great deal of enthusiasm in the Svenskfilmindustrie 
about it. Hjordis is one of the really great women’s parts. 


452 



Would you be interested, Ingrid? Besides being a good part 
and a good picture, it might give you the chance to kick 
the pants of some of the people who have been kicking 
you in the pants for a long time. We will have a major re- 
lease but the money will be private money so there will 
be none of that tampering with the script. Let me know 
whether you might be interested. It is one hell of a part. 

Again, we’re glad to have seen you. I think you have some 
of the things licked now. And you are rapidly breeding a 
private army which may protect you in the future. 

love to you both. 

John Steinbeck 


In the manner of a Viking skald, Ingrid Bergman 
replied: 

“Thou art minded I play a woman mighty as Ujor- 

dis? Set thy hand to work Now — if thou errest and 

thy film prate senselessly, hateful to us both it 
stinketh. Little dost thou know Ingrid if thou think- 
est to have her help in such a deed of shame. Fare- 
well and fortune befriend thee.” 

The final leg of their trip took them to Ireland in 
August, where Steinbeck hoped to find traces of his 
Hamilton ancestors. 


453 



To Mr. and Mrs. Pascal Covici 


Londonderry, Ireland 
August 17, 1952 

Dear Pat and Dorothy: 

We just got in here. We’re on a hunt for the seat of the 
Hamiltons. The place they are supposed to have lived is not 
on any map no matter how large scaled but we have found 
a taxi driver who thinks he knows where it is and tomorrow 
we start out to try to find it. It should be a very interesting 
experience. I can’t imagine any of them are still alive since 
the last I heard of them was fifteen years ago and there were 
then two old, old ladies and an old, old gentleman and they 
had none of them been married. However, whatever hap- 
pens it will be a story to tell. 

We are really tired now. Have got kind of dull to every- 
thing. Elaine has just figured out that we have been to thirty- 
eight difFerent hotels since we left. That doesn’t count going 
back to the same hotel or sleeping on boats and such. 

We have just completed a drive all around Scotland. That 
is a lovely country, not a gay country but it is one hell of a lot 
gayer than England. Elaine’s birthday was celebrated in the 
dourest little hotel by a Scottish lake. I had a magnum of 
champagne. The dinner was horrible. There was no way 
properly to ice the champagne. It was bitterly cold, believe 
it or not. We went to bed and huddled together and drank the 
whole magnum of wine, no cake, no presents, no nothing. 
The guests at this hotel were all British and they sat silently 
as we went through, sat over their papers. They whisper and 
look at you but look hastily away when you look up. Every- 
body is so busy respecting each other’s privacy that there is 
a feeling in one of those Common Rooms like that in an 
undertaking parlour just before the main event. We got to 
giggling up in our room and probably every one of those 
holidaying British exchanged glances and made the mental 
reservation, ‘Ameddicans.’ 


love from us both 



Back in New York, Steinbeck celebrated the birth of 
Pascal Covici, Jr.’s son, who had been named John 
after him. 


To Pascal Covici, Jr. 


New York 
[September 9, 1952] 

Dear Pascal — 

Of course I am flattered. But you give me something to live 
up to — which maybe I won’t try to live up to. 

But the name is a good name. It is particularly valuable in 
school first because there is no rhyme for it and second be- 
cause at that period when you are desperately trying to 
disappear into the group, John has no more emphasis than 
a number. It is not a name to embarrass you when you are 
little. 

There is one other thing about it. If it is not for you, it will 
reject you. If you are not by nature John — it automatically 
becomes Jack or Johnny which are very different names, or 
it leaves and a nickname takes its place. I can remember 
wishing for a nickname but I never had one. 

I hope your John will wear it in health and honor. There 
have been bad ones like John Lackland and Ivan the Terrible 
but mostly it has been a kind of nobly humble name. And I 
need not give you examples of that. 

Thank you. It does make me feel shy and inadequate. 

Love to all three, 
John 


Six years had passed since Steinbeck had written 
Carl Wilhelmson, “I haven’t heard from Dook Shef- 


455 



field in a long time. He seemed so touchy that I gave 
up. He obviously didn’t want any more to do with me 
and I don’t even want to investigate why. I think a 
dislikeness of experience is largely responsible with 
all of these things.” Though a later letter to Shef- 
field’s sister (page 708) presents a diflPerent explana- 
tion of the estrangement, there is no doubt that he 
felt one of its primary causes to be the contrast be- 
tween the orbit of his own life, its location, interests, 
and associates, and that of his friend, quieter, 
removed, and scholarly, in Northern California. 


To Carlton A. Sheffield 


New York 
September 10, 1952 

Dear Dook: 

Did I answer your card written last Feb? I think I did but 
I have come to put little faith in those things I think I did. 

Fifty is a good age. The hair recedes, the paunch grows a 
little, the face — ^rarely inspected, looks the same to us but not 
to others. The little inabilities grow so gradually that we 
don’t even know it. My hangovers are less bad maybe be- 
cause I drink better liquor. But enough of this 50 talk. 

We had the grand tour— six months of it and I liked it very 
well. I’m glad to be back. We have a pretty little house here 
and every day is full. Very nice and time races by. When you 
really live in New York, it is more rural than country. Your 
district is a village and you go to Times Square as once you 
went to San Francisco. I do pretty much work and as always 
— 90 percent of it is throvra out. I cut more deeply'than I used 
to which means that I overwrite more than I used to. I cut 
90,000 words out of my most recent book but I think it’s a 
pretty good book [East of Eden]. It was a hard one. But they’re 
all hard. And if I want to know I’m fifty, all I have to do is look 
at my titles — so god-damned many of them. I’ll ask Pat to 
send you a copy of the last one. To see if you like it or not. 

In Paris I wrote a picture script based on an early play of 
Ibsen’s called The Vikings at Helgoland— not very well 
456 



known — a roaring melodrama, cluttered and verbose but 
with the great dramatic construction and character relation- 
ships he later cleaned up. Anyway — I shook out the clutter 
and I think it will make a good picture. 

Have three more articles to complete for Colliers to finish 
my agreement with them. Then I want to learn something 
about plays, so I’m going to try to plunge into that form this 
winter. You may look for some colossal flops. But I do main- 
tain that gigantic stupidity that will let me try it. 

Your life sounds good to me. I have the indolence for it but 
have never been able to practice it. Too jittery and nervous. 
And yet every instinct aims toward just such a life. I guess I 
inherited from my mother the desire to do four things at 
once. 

I am gradually accumulating a library which would de- 
light you I think. It’s a library of words — all dictionaries — 12 
vol. Oxford, all of Mencken, folklore, Americanisms, die. of 
slang — many — and then all books and monographs on words. 
I find I love words very much. And gradually I am getting a 
series of dictionaries of modern languages. The crazy thing 
about all this is that I don’t use a great variety of words in my 
work at all. I just love them for themselves. The long and 
specialized words are not very interesting because they have 
no history and no family. But a word like claw or land or host 
or foist — goes back and back and has relatives in all direc- 
tions. A negro scholar is completing a volume on all the 
African words in the American language. He has about 
10,000 so far, some of them unchanged in meaning or form 
from their Zulu or Gold Coast sources. I must write to him 
and try to get a copy. 

Just read Hemingway’s new book [The Old Man and The 
Sea]. A very fine performance. I am so glad. The obscene joy 
with which people trampled him on the last one was disgust- 
ing. Now they are falling too far the other way almost in 
shame. The same thing is going to happen to me with my 
new book. It is the best work I’ve done but a lot of silly things 
are going to be said about it. Unthoughtful flattery is, if any- 
thing, more insulting than denunciation. 

This has gone on quite a long time now. 

Anyway, let me know what you think of the new work. 

So long, 

J 


457 



To Carlton A. Sheffield 


New York 
October i6, 1952 

Dear Dookr 

Thank you for your good letter. It warmed me and it 
remembered me of very many things. I guess it was the 
things we disagreed about that kept us together. Only when 
we began to agree did we get into trouble. I’m glad you like 
the book. The Book — it’s been capitalized in my mind for so 
long that it was a kind of a person. And when the last line was 
finished that person was dead. Rewriting and cutting was 
like dressing a corpse for a real nice funeral. Remembering 
the book now is like remembering Ed Ricketts. I remember 
nice things about both but a finished book and a dead man 
can never surprise you nor delight you any more. They aren’t 
going any place. 

I guess — ^what may happen is what keeps us alive. We want 
to see tomorrow. Criticism of the book by critics has been 
cautious, as it should be. They, after all, must see whether it 
has a life of its own and the only proof of that is whether 
people accept it as their own. That’s why most critics do not 
like my present book but love the former one which formerly 
they denounced. I have felt for some time that criticism has 
one great value to a writer. With the exception of extreme 
invention in method or idea (generally disliked by critics 
because nothing to measure them against) the critic can tell 
a writer what not to do. If he could tell him what to do, he’d 
be a writer himself. What to do is the soul and heart of the 
book. What not to do is how well or badly you did it. 

I am interested in Anthony West’s review in the New 
Yorker. I wonder what made him so angry — and it was a very 
angry piece. I should like to meet him to find out why he 
hated and feared this book so much. 

The book seems to be selling enormously. I am getting 
flocks of letters and oddly enough, most of them have the 
sense of possession just as you do. People write as though it 
were their book. I’ll speak of Cathy for a moment and then 
458 



forget the book. You won’t believe her, many people don’t. I 
don’t know whether I believe her either but I know she exists. 

I don’t believe in Napoleon, Joan of Arc, Jack the Ripper, the 
man who stands on one finger in the circus. I don’t believe 
Jesus Christ, Alexander the Great, Leonardo. I don’t believe 
them but they exist. I don’t believe them because they aren’t 
like me. You say you only believe her at the end. Ah! but 
that’s when, through fear, she became like us. This was very 
carefully planned. All of the book was very carefully 
planned. And I’m forgetting it so soon. 

I’m going to do a job that sounds very amusing. Frank 
Loesser and I are going to make a musical comedy of Can- 
nery Row. It will be a madhouse but getting such a thing 
together should be great fun. 

It is very good to be writing to you again. I hope we can 
keep it up. I think I’m changed in some ways, more calm, 
maybe more adult, perhaps more tolerant. But still restless. 
I’ll never get over that I guess — still nervous, still going from 
my high ups to very low downs — just short of a manic depres- 
sive, I guess. I have more confidence in myself now, which 
makes me less arrogant. And Elaine has taught me not to be 
afraid of people (strangers) so that I am kinder and better 
mannered I think. 

I think I am without ambition. It isn’t that I’ve got so much 
but that I want less. And I do have the great pleasure in work 
— while it is being done. Nothing equals that to me and I 
never get used to it. My marriage is good in all ways and my 
powers in that direction are less frantic but not less frequent. 
This seems to be my golden age. I wouldn’t go back or ahead 
a week. 

In some things I think I more nearly resemble you than I 
did. I hope that isn’t wishful thinking. I’ve always admired 
your ability to take stock of your assets, your wishes and your 
liabilities and out of them make a life that contains more 
elements good for you than any other. You used to have a 
little nagging conscience about contributing to some great 
world of thought or art. Maybe you have that without know- 
ing it. Thoreau didn’t know either. And you are more nearly 
like him than anyone I know. Elaine asked what you were 
like and instead I told her how and where you lived. She said 
you must be very wise. I don’t think you are terribly wise— 
but I do think you have used your life well. I am caught up 
in the world and full of its frenzies but you are perfectly 


459 



placed to be a quiet, thoughtful, appraiser of your time. You 
used to have a crippling self-consciousness — as bad as mine. 
Mine made me jump in where yours made you stay out. But 
just as my aches have eased, so must yours have done. 

The cards for you and for me have been down a long time. 
The thing that’s natural for you, you drift towards. You drift 
toward peace and contemplation, and I drift toward restless- 
ness and violence. If either of us forces toward the opposite, 
it doesn’t last long. And we don’t learn — at least I don’t. I 
mean learn lessons applicable to myself. I am fully capable 
of making exactly the same mistake today I did at i6 even 
though I know better. That’s funny isn’t it? I need glasses to 
read now, and I can’t even learn to keep track of them. 

It’s a grey day here. My working room is on the third floor 
overlooking 72nd Street which is a nice street. And I guess, 
by count — two-thirds of my working time is looking out the 
window at people going by. Didn’t we used to do that in your 
car? But then we only looked at girls. Now I look at anyone 
but I still like to look at girls. 

And always I feel that I am living in a dream and that I will 
awaken to something quite different. It’s very unreal but 
then everything always has been to me. Maybe I never saw 
anything real. That’s what Marge Bailey [one of his profes- 
sors at Stanford] said about me once very long ago. I do go on, 
don’t I? But it’s fun. 

We lead a very quiet life. Once a week or so we go out to 
dinner or to the theatre. Once a month or thereabouts people 
come in. It’s much quieter than living in a small town. Very 
strange but true. People in the city never drop in. They al- 
ways call first — a manners pattern small towns could well 
learn. 

A fine old bum just went by as he does every day about this 
time. Apparently he gets drunk every night. Wakes about 3 
in the afternoon and goes by eating an enormous piece of 
bread. I wonder where he gets the money to get drunk. He 
looks like death. I wonder how he stays alive or why. 

I love the winters here. It gets quite cold and people are 
much more cheerful when it is cold. The first snow is like a 
holiday. Very good. We have a nice little library with a red 
rug and big chairs. In winter we build a coal fire in the 
fire-place and it is a very nice room to be in. I seem to be just 
flowing out words. But as I said before — ^it feels good to be 
writing to you. 

460 



Fd better wrap this up I guess. It looks as though it would 
go on interminably. 


So long 
John 


In Adlai Stevenson’s first campaign for the Presi- 
dency Steinbeck wrote scores of speeches to be deliv- 
ered by supporters at rallies in the eastern half of 
the United States. This letter was written after the 
campaign before the two men had met. 


To Adlai Stevenson 


New York 
November 7, 1952 

Dear Governor Stevenson: 

I hope you will have rest without sadness. The sadness is 
for us who have lost our chance for greatness when greatness 
is needed. The Republic will not crumble. But for a little 
while, please don’t reread Thucydides. Republics have — and 
in just this way. 

It has been an honor to work for you — ^and a privilege. In 
some future, if you have the time and or the inclination I 
hope you can come to my house and settle back with a drink 
and — tell sad stories of the death of Kings. 

Thank God for the impeachment provisions. 

Yours in disappointment and in hope 

John Steinbeck 


461 



To Carlton A. Sheffield 


New York 
[December 1952] 

Dear Dock: 

There is no doubt that this will not be sent for a long time. 
Elections are over and we lick our wounds and try to find 
something good. The general has a rough future. I am told he 
is a very sensitive man who broods over a bad notice. Well — 
now they have it— let’s see what they do with it. There is no 
excuse about a split Congress or anything. 

Your dog sounds interesting and properly come by. Dogs 
are curious extensions of ourselves. We have two — a cocker 
belonging to Waverly — Elaine’s daughter — a bitch of great 
appetite — in fact a walking stomach — greedy beyond belief, 
and also a big French poodle acquired in Paris— the most 
intelligent dog I’ve ever seen. I don’t need dogs as I once 
needed them but I like them as much as ever. Once they were 
absolute necessities to me — emotionally. But if I lived alone 
I would instantly get one. A house is very dead without a dog. 
Here in New York we have a little garden. I have made a 
swinging door of plexiglass so that the dogs can go out when 
they wish. This removes the New Yorker’s necessity of hav- 
ing to walk them. It also makes them much happier. 

I’m coming to life again. I like the feeling of the pencil. The 
second finger of my right hand has a great grooved callus on 
it into which the pencil fits. And I have an electric pencil 
sharpener. I use about 200 a day. I love the smooth lead and 
a sharp point. 

You are right about the difficulty of transposing Cannery 
Row to the stage. I’m not going to do exactly that. I have a 
whole new story. It will simply be set against the old back- 
ground. You know Dook — ^it never gets any easier. The pro- 
cess of writing a book is the process of outgrowing it. I am 
just as scared now as I was 25 years ago. 

I’m talking myself out pretty much. You say you have few 
friends now. The same is true of me. I have millions of ac- 
quaintances and many professional friends but no one to talk 

462 



basic things to and I’d like to get back to you. You don’t have 
anything against me, do you? 

I had never expected to make a living at -writing. Then 
when money began to come in it kind of scared me. I didn’t 
think I deserved it and besides it was kind of bad luck. I gave 
a lot of it away — ^tried to spread it around. Maybe it was a 
kind of propitiation of the gods. It made me a lot of enemies. 
I was clumsy about it I guess but I didn’t want power over any 
one. Anyway that was the impulse. And it was wrong. But 
I’ve done many wrong things. But before I forget it — ^there is 
one thing I can do for you that isn’t wrong. When you need 
any books — ^to buy I mean — I can get them through Viking at 
40% discount. Remember that— will you? It makes a very 
great difference. 

I don’t have any money problems any more. After living 
and taxes and alimony, there isn’t any left so my problem is 
solved. We live a good life, quite simple but we don’t deny our 
selves much. We see what theatre we want, and we eat well 
and sleep warm. I can’t think of anything better. Next year 
we are going to start traveling more. I find I want to see many 
things. 

I do go on, don’t I? But it is good to be able to talk — ^very 
good. I hope you don’t mind. 

The play goes on and I’m having fun with it. This should 
be a danger signal. 

I’m going to get this off finally. 

love 

John 

I have named the poodle Charles le Chien, le policier de 
Paris, (puns yet) 


The New York Times Book Review had polled a 
number of celebrities for their favorite books of the 
year, and Steinbeck had listed Matador by Bamaby 
Conrad as one of his. Conrad wrote to thank him. 


-463 



To Barnaby Conrad 


New York 
December 29 [1952] 

Dear Conrad: 

I liked Matador for a number of reasons chief of which was 
that I believed it. 1 am not informed enough to be an afi- 
cionado but that has nothing to do with it. If I had never been 
near a bull ring I would still have believed it. That makes it 
good to me. I guess it’s communication I’m talking about. 

You will be amused at something that happened to me last 
year. I had very good seats for the week at the Feria in Seville 
2nd row sombra right with the newspaper critics. A nice 
little business type man in a double breasted suit sat next to 
me all week and he was very kind in explaining many things. 
My questions were extremely naive and he was very nice to 
us. Only afterwards did I discover that the little business 
man was Juan Belmonte. 

I am delighted that John Huston is going to do your pic- 
ture. In addition to his talent, he has such integrity and 
intelligence that you should be pleased. Give John my 
greetings. He is an old and valued friend. You couldn’t 
have better. 

I am pleased that you like Eden. It is doing better than I 
had dared to hope. It is our tendency to think when critics do 
not like our work that they have a scunner. I guess I just don’t 
bring out the best in critics. Maybe I’ve been around too long. 
The tradition is that writers of English die young. Maybe 
that outrages them. The pleasant thing is that people go right 
on reading the books. 

You can’t have better than Elizabeth Otis. She has the 
sharpest mind for story I know of. And no matter how popu- 
lar you get, she’ll still return a story if she doesn’t like it. Still 
does to me. She is wonderful. 

Do come to see us. 

Sincerely 
John Steinbeck 


464 


I have a motto you might like to share — se no quieres volar, 
cuidado con las alas! (“If you don’t want to fly, beware of 
wings.”) 

J. S. 


To Barnaby Conrad 


[New York] 
January 2, 1953 

Dear Conrad: 

This is a note somewhat in answer to your good letter of 
this morning. Did I tell you my wife and I are going to St. 
Thomas? It would be pleasant if you should come down 
while we’re there. I’ll throw a line in the water. A fish is not 
my destiny any more than a bull is but I can understand how 
either or both could be. But I have no competitive spirit. 
Don’t even care for gambling. There’s no sense in it if you 
don’t feel tragic when you lose or triumphant when you win. 
I like bullfights, because to me it is a lonely, formal, dignified 
microcosm of what happens to every man, sometimes even 
in an office strangled by the glue on envelopes. In the bull- 
ring he survives for awhile sometimes. Also there’s a fierce, 
unbeaten acceptance of final defeat in the bullring and I love 
gallantry above all virtues. It is the prime virtue of the indi- 
vidual and the only occidental invention, and being lost as 
the individual gets lost. 

Do you know Annie Laurie Williams? She said a wise thing 
to me one time. I am reminded of it by your saying you were 
afraid to get away from the buUs. She said — “I can always tell 
the work of a young writer learning his trade because his 
drama is set off by an act of Nature — a storm, volcano, acci- 
dent. After years he learns to find it in a simple clash of 
personality with experience.” That’s interesting isn’t it? — 
and you can find all kinds of loopholes in it. 

The bull is surely the pure symbol of dramatic fate, but 
within a scope, it is repetitious, purposely so just as the Hail 
Mary is. On the other hand chess is not. I don’t favor either 

465 



one over the other but you will do well with the incredible 
corrida where men and women battle poverty (or riches), 
fear, hurt, insult, triumph, and finally the great bull. Death. 
There’s a piedras negras for you. 

I’m tired. I’m going to look down into the sea and watch 
little animals doing it for two weeks. 

See you soon. 

J.S. 

You’re lucky in your first name. There was another good 
writer with your last. 


To Felicia GefFen 

OF THE ACADEMY OF ARTS AND LETTERS 


New York 
[March 1953] 

Dear Miss Geffen: 

Will you send me some buttons? My kids pulled mine apart 
to see how the crinkle got in the ribbon. I deplore it but I 
always wanted to know too, so I had the double pleasure of 
finding out and punishing them at the same time. 

Have you heard of the left bank painter who fell in love 
and left his caf6 and friends for his beauty? 

One of the two maggots visited him and found to his horror 
that the girl had three eyes. 

“But she’s dreadful,” he cried. 

“Academician!” said the lover. 


No offense 


J. S. 


466 



To Nelson Valjean 

STANFORD CLASSMATE 


New York 
March 13, 1953 

Dear Val: 

It was a very nice thing to get your letter and I am glad you 
like the work. I surely moved around with a manure fork, I 
suppose, in doing it, and I was amazed at how much I was 
able to remember and I suppose I didn’t remember a great 
deal. 

I have had no reaction from Salinas regarding the book, 
but I have had previous experience which would indicate to 
me that the Salinas reaction would not be good. When I wrote 
Tortilla Flat, for instance, the Monterey Chamber of Com- 
merce issued a statement that it was a damned lie and that 
no such place or people existed. Later, they began running 
buses to the place where they thought it might be. 

When I did Cannery Row, I had not only a charge from the 
Monterey Chamber of Commerce, but from the Fish Canners 
Association which came to the defense of Cannery Row peo- 
ple with a knightly intensity. They later reversed them- 
selves, too. So I should imagine Salinas is waiting to find out 
what the reaction of the rest of the country is before they 
decide whether they will approve of me or disapprove of me. 
I do not think they approve of me very highly. 

It occurs to me that probably the most heartbreaking title 
in the world is Tom Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again” — 
it’s literally true. They want no part of me except in a pine 
box. 

I am terribly interested in what you say about my father 
and mother. I think no one ever had more loyalty than I had 
from my parents. This was— or must have been — particu- 
larly painful to them, in that I was doing something that the 
town considered nuts and bad taste. Being intelligent people, 
my parents knew that my chances of making a living at 
writing were about one in a million — ^horse racing is a sure 
thing compared to it. A couple of years ago I came across a 
story about my father which I think might interest you. 

467 



When my first book came out, I didn’t know it, but he appar- 
ently tried to get a few of my townspeople to buy a copy or 
so of it. They were not very much interested in so doing, but, 
as you know, we lived in Pacific Grove part of the time, and 
my father went to Mr. Holman of Holman’s Store, and asked 
him if he wouldn’t lay in a few copies of it — the book was 
called Cup of Gold. Mr. Holman said that if people wanted it 
and ordered it, he would certainly send for it, but he didn’t 
think that he could go out on a limb and put any in stock, and 
so he did not. Well — ^many years later, Mrs. Holman began 
collecting my work, and she had to pay $78.00 for a copy of 
the book which, remaindered, could have been bought for 2c. 
or 3c. a copy. She blamed Mr. Holman for not having literary 
taste and she resents very much having to pay such a 
premium. It was a surprise to me that my father had tried to 
sell books for me. He did not succeed, but I honor him for 
having tried. 

There is nothing I would rather do than to stop by and 
drink some of your grappa. Do you make it yourself? I won- 
der if I could still have the stomach for it. I remember we 
used to drink it out in Alisal and it had a distinct kerosene 
taste and the rule was then not to light a match within three 
minutes of having had a drink of it. 

Thank you for writing. It’s good to hear from you. 

Yours very sincerely, 

John 


In March, while Elaine Steinbeck went to Texas for 
her annual visit to her family, John Steinbeck took 
his two sons (Thom, eleven, and John, or Catbird, or 
Cat, nine) to Nantucket for their spring vacation. 
Burgie, Miss Burgess, was a Nantucket friend. 


468 



To Elaine Steinbeck 


Nantucket 
[March 24-27, 1953] 
Tuesday 

Darling: 

It’s been busy all right but fun. Burgie and her brother 
were waiting for us and we got here well before dark. Fires 
were burning and the house warm. The days have been 
beautiful but at night a real winter chill sets in. Then we 
build big fires. 

Yesterday we went to town and I ordered a jeep to be deliv- 
ered today. We will go out for driftwood for the fires. We 
made menus for the whole week. Boys make their beds and 
wash and wipe dishes. They do it pretty well — sometimes 
three times before perfect. But they do it. Tonight we wash 
clothes. Yesterday we walked to the lighthouse and back. 
Boys want to stay up late but what with the cold air and the 
exercise they conk out at about 8 o’clock and I about 8:30. 
There has been no talk of radio, television or movies. I made 
my justly world famous corned beef hash last night. A dead 
and properly mummified seagull on the beach is being re- 
buried for the 8th time right now with a border of clam 
shells. This time he is being interred with his head above 
ground so he “can look out.” 

I love you and miss you. The jeep is coming and will have 
to close. 

Love, 

John 


Wednesday 

Dearest Elaine: 

Your card came yesterday. I miss you very much and hope 
these goings away do not happen often. 

Two good sunny days and today hard rain. But the boys are 
out in it. I have a big fire going in the kitchen and when they 
come in soaked and freezing I’ll shuck off their clothes and 

469 



warm them. It is working well. Each makes his own bed — 
and well. Thom cleans living room and wipes dishes. Cat 
carries, brings coal and sweeps kitchen. I coach. Big washing 
today. Everyone did his socks and underwear. All hanging in 
kitchen over the stove. 

All in all, it is going better than I had imagined it could. 
Boys are cooperative but incredibly thoughtless. I am going 
very slowly, insisting that they finish every single thing 
before starting on the next. We get along fine. Bed making is 
a singular triumph because a badly made bed lets cold air in 
and the nights are freezing, and I don’t keep any fires. We 
dress by kerosene heater. 

Love — and I’ll be glad when you’re back. 

John 


Thursday 

Dearest: 

Last night after airplane building and painting I started 
reading The Black Arrow of RLS. The language is that of the 
Wars of the Roses. The kids are fascinated by the change of 
word sequences. “I think me not — etc.” There’s a murder in 
the first chapter with a black arrow with the victim’s name 
on it, so all is well. 

Rain is over — sun is bright so we will go for a Moor Tour 
today in the jeep — collecting fireplace wood. 

Thom just got up. 

Later — ^breakfast over, beds made, dishes washed. It will be 
Sunday before we know it. 

Gwyn is going to be very surprised. Always before the boys 
have come home with a bag of dirty clothes. This time, their 
clothes will be clean — well, pretty clean. The boys respond 
beautifully and they are very proud when they do a job well. 
They have carried logs as big as themselves. No wonder they 
sleep so well. 

I hope you are having a good visit. New York will be in full 
spring before you get back. I miss you. 

Love, 

John 


470 


To Richard Watts, Jr. 

DRAMA CRITIC OF THE NEW YORK POST 


[New York] 
April 7, 1953 

Dear Dick: 

I disagree with your criticism of Tennessee Williams’ 
show Camino Real, but I don’t intend to let that interfere 
with an old and valued friendship. There’s no reason why 
you should like a play; there’s no reason why I should not like 
the same play. I found in this one clarity and beauty. I lis- 
tened to what seemed to me a courageous and fine piece of 
work, beautifully produced, and filled with excitement. 

But apart from the fate of Camino Real, I think a more 
serious matter is involved. At least twice a year, every critic, 
during the dead period, vsnrites a piece bemoaning the lack of 
courage, of imagination, of innovation in the American 
theatre. This being so, it is my opinion that when a play of 
courage, imagination and invention comes along, the critics 
should draw this to the attention of the theatre-goer. It 
becomes clear that when innovation .and invention au- 
tomatically draw bad notices, any backer will be cautious of 
investment,!- and furthermore will not playwrights stop ex- 
perimenting if their plays will not be produced? 

The democracy of art does not require universal acclaim. 
In fact instant acceptance is often a diagnostic of inferiority. 

I hope you will find it in your heart to print this letter. I am 
not an investor, nor am I involved in the production but both 
you and I are amply involved in the survival and growth of 
the American Theatre. 

See you soon, I hope. Yours in continued friendship and 
admiration. 

John Steinbeck 


471 



In September-, to be near Cy Feuer and Ernest Mar- 
tin, who were to produce the musical play earlier 
described as an extension of Cannery Row, the 
Steinbecks rented a waterside cottage for them- 
selves and the boys in Sag Harbor, Long Island. 

The musical and the novel on the same subject that 
Steinbeck was writing at this time underwent sev- 
eral changes of title. Both were originally called 
Bear Flag. Ultimately the novel was published as 
Sweet Thursday (1954), and the musical appeared 
on Broadway as Pipe Dream (1955). 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Sag Harbor 
September 14, 1953 

Dear Elizabeth: 

The time of the boys is over now. Elaine is in New York 
with Waverly this week and I am alone out here. The fall is 
coming quickly, a chill in the air and a hoarse wind blowing 
over the water. This is my favorite time and I couldn’t be in 
a better place for it. I’ll get my first draft of Bear Flag finished 
this week. That and walk and smell the good wind. I take 
great comfort from this wind and from the ocean. I didn’t 
know I missed it so much. One gets so involved in New York. 

Feuer and Martin are here most of the time and we work 
on the story line for the musical. That was, of course, one of 
the main reasons for coming here. They suggested it. 

I have enjoyed writing this book, the B.F. 

There is a school of thought among writers which says that 
if you enjoy writing something it is automatically no good 
and should be thrown out. I can’t agree with this. Bear Flag 
may not be much good but for what it is, I think it is all right. 
Also I think it makes a nice balance for the weight of Eden. 
It is kind of light and gay and astringent. It may even say 
some good things. 

I’ll be sad to finish Bear Flag. I have really loved it. I am 
reluctant to start into the last two chapters. But I will. I do 

472 



hope you love this book, a little self-indulgent though it may 
be. Try to like it. 

Oscar Hammerstein took what I had of Bear Flag to Eng- 
land with him. He is very much interested in doing it. Now 
F & M have to sell the idea to Dick Rodgers. [Frank Loesser 
had resigned as composer.] I hope they will do it but I have 
my fingers crossed. That is supposed to be a secret by the way. 

I keep thinking of the European trip next year and coming 
up with new ideas for things to write while there. I wouldn’t 
be surprised if this should be one of the most productive 
times of all. It is time for me to do short things — but short 
things I like. I’m making a list of them. 

Time goes so very quickly. Living in New York I never get 
a chance to write to you. 

Now I’ll get back to Bear Flag — refreshed and full of hell. 

Love, 

John 

It’s very late now. I just finished Bear Flag. It’s crazy. 


To Carlton A. Sheffield 


New York 
November 2, 1953 

Dear Dook: 

Meant to answer yours a long time ago and instead had a 
stretch of illness and a stretch of hard work. You say that my 
memory of events long past did not coincide with your mem- 
ory of my original report of them. I wonder how accurate any 
of it is. I suspect that the most recent is the most accurate. 
Surely it is the most objective. I don’t have to appear in a good 
light now, for anyone, even for myself, so perhaps it is less 
gilded. And I have less regard for truth than I once had with 
the result that I violate it less. 

Anyway, a new book finished in first draft. I’m going to put 
it away for a few months. See whether it makes any differ- 


473 



ence in the rewrite. It should. I always want to rewrite them 
after it is too late. 


He wrote about this new book to the originals of two 
of the characters in it, who had also appeared in 
Cannery Row, Mack and Gay: 

“I’ve just finished another book about the Row. It is 
a continuation concerned not with what did happen 
but with what might have happened. The one can be 
as true as the other. I think it is a funny story, and 
sad too because it is what might have happened to 
Ed and didn’t. I don’t seem to be able to get over his 
death. But this will be the last piece about him.” 


I’m going back to Spain in the Spring. I feel an affinity 
there. Mexico is a kind of fake Spain. I feel related to Spanish 
people much more than to Anglo-Saxons. Unusual with my 
blood line — ^whatever it is. But they have kept something we 
seem to have lost. 

It’s a restless time for me between jobs. I look forward to 
it and then it comes and I don’t know what to do with it. Once 
I was able to take up the slack by writing letters but that 
doesn’t work any more. I write very few letters. There is a 
vast difference between writing letters and answering let- 
ters. 

Then too, between jobs, the pressure is on me to write 
“short pieces’’ for this or that. It is generally considered that 
I can whip out a short piece — about anything you want. And 
damn it I can’t. Or if I do it stinks. It takes just as long for a 
short piece as a long one. 

Viking reissued six of my short novels in one volume and 
I happened to look at the list of my titles. It is frighteningly 
long. Gave me a shock at the passage of time. Lord, there are 
so many of them and they took so long. Recently I had an 
amusing lunch with six critics. They were the men who had 
knocked each book as it came out. Reading the books over 
again, they said they couldn’t recall why they had got so mad. 
Harry Hansen said the books were so different one from an- 
other it used to make him mad because he thought it was a 
trick. Only now he said was he conscious of the design. Well, 
there wasn’t any conscious design. I suppose what it boils 
down to is this — a man has only a little to say and he says it 

474 



over and over so it looks like a design. And the terrible thing 
is that I still don’t know what it is I have to say, but I do know 
it isn’t very complicated and surely it isn’t new. 

Let me hear from you. 

love 

John 


The Steinbecks arrived in Seville in April, as 
planned. 

“This is a lovely city,” he wrote Elizabeth Otis. “The 
light is yellow where it is pink in Paris. The sand in 
the Seville bull ring is golden — ^the only place in the 
world. They take it from the river. I’ll go and walk 
in the Court of Oranges which was laid out by the 
Moors in the 8th century. No doubt they had politics 
but they are long forgotten and only the beauty of 
the garden is left. It is hard to remember that this is 
always so.” 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Hotel Madrid 
Seville 
April 21, 1954 

Dear Elizabeth: 

Can’t seem to stay awake very much. But when luncheon 
is at 2:30 and dinner doesn’t start until 10, it kind of cuts the 
day -wrong for my training. 

A few quotes for your pleasure. Written with black chalk 
on a wall — “Luisa, he who writes this is leaving you forever.” 
On hotel porch an American woman and her little boy. Span- 
iard asked, “Do you like the bull fight?” Woman — “We 
haven’t seen them but I’m sure we will like them. You see my 


475 



husband is a doctor so we are used to all that.” Wouldn’t you 
like to go to her husband for an office call? Over the horns 
with a scalpel. A new dicho or at least one I had never heard 
regarding drinking strong liquor. “El primero con agua, la 
segunda sin agua, el tercero como agua.” The first with wa- 
ter, the second without water, the third like water. And it’s 
true. 

Am rereading Cervantes. He lived here and was in prison 
here and the city has not greatly changed. The little square 
where we drink beer and eat shrimps he mentions many 
times. The prison where he served was about a block from 
the bull ring and his window looked out on the Tower of Gold 
which is still there. 

Also the habits of the gypsies have not changed. This 
morning I was sitting on a wall by the river when a gypsy 
asked to shine my shoes for a peseta. As he finished he caught 
his cloth under my rubber heel and ripped it off. It was a good 
trick. He then put on a new heel for 20 pesetas. Then he asked 
if I would like a new heel on the other shoe. It had taken me 
a long time to catch on. I told him one was a lesson but two 
would be an insult. I told him that for the first heel he would 
get 20 pesetas but for the second 20 days in jail. We ended 
good friends. In a way I love the gypsies. They are so uncom- 
promisingly dishonest. Never for a moment do they fall into 
probity. 

The weather continues wonderful and we are getting a 
little afraid it will rain for the Feria. It did last year and 
completely washed it out. That would be a shame. 

I’m going to the Archives of the Indies tomorrow and try to 
get a look at the Columbian documents. They are all here. 
The bones of the old boy are supposed to be in the Cathedral, 
in a great bronze casket carried on the shoulders of bronze 
kings and bishops. But then, said bones are supposed to be in 
lots of places. 

I wonder what’s the matter with me? I want to sleep all the 
time. 

Love to all, 
John 


476 


Before leaving for Europe, Steinbeck had had a 
physical check-up with a view to taking out life in- 
surance. In Madrid, he learned from Elizabeth Otis 
that the insurance had been refused. 

“The insurance matter is strange,” he wrote her on 
May 5. “Rose [Dr. Alan Rose, the cardiologist] told me 
only that my heart was abnormally small. I did not 
go to see him before we left, just forgot to. I will do 
as you say in Paris — find a specialist and let him give 
me an opinion. But I will not permit myself to be- 
come one of those heart cripples who spread their 
psychopathy around. It has been a good heart to me 
and I won’t insult it now by being kind to it. That 
would be dreadful. I’m sorry about the insurance. 
That’s a kind of betting game in which you bet 
against yourself and they have raised the odds on 
me — that is all. I’m sorry for my heirs but I can’t 
help it. I’ll just have to write as many books as I can.” 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Hotel Lancaster 
Paris 

May 15, 1954 

Dear Elizabeth: 

We got in yesterday after six days of driving and it was 
good to get here. But the trip was fine, the car goes magnifi- 
cently and the countryside is all green and gold and red pop- 
pies. We drove with the top down and the rains parted and 
we got only about three drops all the way. In Blois where we 
stayed overnight I seem to have got a mild sun stroke with 
a little fever. You should see our faces, just burned to a crisp. 
My nose has peeled four times without interval. But it 
was fine and for once even the driver was able to see the 
country. 

This morning your letter came and we were very glad to 
get it. It seemed to us that we were cut off for an awfully long 
time. I was interested in the letter from your doctor. The only 
symptom I seem to have is shortness of breath and I think I 


477 




have always had that. That is the reason I was never a dis- 
tance runner. 

I think it has been good to be out of touch with the news. 
Nothing gives you more of a sense of not being able to help 
it anyway than not hearing news. 

Elaine is so delighted to be in Paris that she is bubbling. I 
never knew anyone to love any place more. She hit the street 
this morning ostensibly to buy soap and Kleenex but really 
just to walk about. 

That’s all, dear. I’ll be writing to you often now that I am 
a little more settled. 

Love to you all there, 
John 


Fannie Crow, Elaine Steinbeck’s college roommate, 
at this time Steinbeck’s secretary, and Mary Dekker, 
were living in the Steinbecks’ New York house. 


To Fannie Crow and Mary Dekker 


Hotel Lancaster 
[Paris] 

May 21 [1954I 

Dear Fannie and Mary: 

Elaine has been taking the rap on this trip. We got to Paris 
a week ago and I promptly hit the sack again with the bug, 
so she has had to do all of the house hunting. This morning 
she found a pretty little house right in the center of Paris and 
we will take it if we can get it. It is i Avenue Marigny — a very 
distinguished address right across the street from the Presi- 
dent’s palace — ^half a block from the Champs Elys6es. If you 
want Paris — there you got Paris. It is very French and I think 
we will love it. Besides it has a comrtyard you can drive a car 

478 



into— a covered courtyard. The kids could even play basket- 
ball there in rainy weather. 

The Covicis have been here. They are having a perfectly 
wonderful time. You never saw anyone have better. 

The Marigny house has a terrace on the roof with lots of 
flower boxes so we can have geraniums and morning glories 
and all such things. Oh! I hope we get it. It even has a little 
study where I can work. What joy. And right beside it is a 
park with ponies and a carousel and balloon men and mil- 
lions of children play and the whole thing shaded with chest- 
nut trees. 

Tell me — did the wistaria bloom — any of it? Kazans have 
bought the house three gardens down, the one with the gi- 
gantic wistarias. We’ll be so glad to have them as neighbors. 
Some time I am going to put trellis against our brick wall and 
load it with wistaria. It is a wonderful plant for the city. So 
fresh and green. We’ll make it nice there some time. 

Tonight our French publisher is giving a whing-ding for 
us. I dread it but it will probably be fun. I won’t understand 
one word in 20 and that will make it all the better. 

Later— just got back from my reception. Must have been 
five hundred people and I had to do everything except tap 
dance — and did. 

We have the house. We are very excited. 

[signed] Jean 
(par Helene) 


To Elizabeth Otis 


I Avenue de Marigny 
Paris 

May 27, 1954 


Dear Elizabeth: 

We are moved into our house now and very comfortable. 
The second day, news of Capa’s death which shocked me 


479 



very deeply. We had got to thinking him indestructible. Have 
been sitting with his people here, who are completely shat- 
tered. I shall miss Capa very much. 

We have a cook named Rose. Our concierge is Spanish, 
which helps me a lot because I am helpless in French. 

You know I have had an idea in the back of my mind for 
a long time. Here in France I get interviewed all the time. I 
spend hours with journalists helping them to make some 
kind of a story and then when it comes out it is garbled and 
slanted and lousy. I wondered why I did not write my own 
interviews and charge for those hours of time and have it 
come out my way. In other words, why should I not write 800 
words a week for one French paper, simply called something 
like an American in Paris — observations, essay, questions, 
but unmistakably American. I asked some French newspa- 
per men and they were violently enthusiastic. I said I would 
try some pilot pieces and see how they worked. Well I have 
three now and they go fine. Hoffman [Michel Hoffman, Stein- 
beck’s French literary agent] will sell them to one of the big 
Paris papers, perhaps Figaro. Also I have made a good start 
on my first short story of the series. I told you I felt like 
working and I do. I want to turn out quite a swatch of work 
before the kids get here in two weeks. 

Well, we gave Pat and Dorothy a farewell dinner at Vefour 
— damned expensive but they loved it. 

Elaine is getting the house to running smoothly and it is 
very pleasant. The weather has finally turned warm and 
summer is coming in. I have a workroom with a window 
looking out over a garden. Couldn’t want better. I intend to 
work in the morning and walk in the afternoon. And we hope 
to keep the social life down to a m inim um. 

Today is Ascension Day so all the stores are closed. Two 
days ago the President’s daughter got married right across 
the street. Street was roped off and we had a box seat on our 
terrace. It will be a fine place to sit in the summer and watch 
Paris go by. 

Love for now and I’ll let you know what comes of the news- 
paper pieces. 

John 


480 


To Elizabeth Otis 


[Paris] 

May 31, 1954 

Dear Elizabeth: 

I think it is time for me to start another letter to you. I take 
considerable comfort in them. Haven’t much of anything to 
say but a great verve for saying it. I have the four pieces 
ready for Hoffman to sell to a Paris paper. I heard today that 
Figaro wants it. If the pieces do well here, do you think it 
would be a good idea to try them in Rome and Germany? I 
have got well into my first little story. And I think it is going 
well; a little hard at first establishing how I want to tell it so 
made some false starts but I think it is on the way finally. 

I have been thinking a great deal about you this week and 
I think it is just nonsense for you not to come over here this 
summer. I can write you a letter telling you that it is neces- 
sary to straighten out business and for that matter Sol [Sol 
Leibner, his friend and accountant] could probably work it 
out so that I could pay your air fare. You think about this, do 
you hear? But don’t get your mind ofiF it the way you used to. 
I remember once you would have said. Nonsense. But you are 
changed too. I really think I am more relaxed than I can ever 
remember being. Every once in a while I get mad as hell at 
Elaine, particularly when after a few drinks she takes out 
after me on one of my shortcomings, but I get good and hon- 
estly mad and tell the truth about why and then it goes away 
and is gone. I don’t think I am mean about it any more, which 
is a very good thing. 

You wouldn’t think what crazy things I have become capa- 
ble of doing. On June 12, 13 and 14, there is a gigantic fete in 
the gardens of the Tuileries — all kinds of people are going to 
appear, celebrities of all kinds and the purpose is to collect 
money for the widows and children of the dead of General Le 
Clerc’s army, the one which liberated Paris. I am asked to go 
three hours each day to sit and be looked at and probably to 
autograph books for his charity and I have agreed to do it and 
I am even looking forward to it. Isn’t that something? You 

481 



know I couldn’t have brought myself to do that before. 

Tomorrow morning I am going to the flower market at the 
He de la Cit6 to buy red geranium plants for our terraces. We 
will probably do a lot of sitting out there and having tea and 
all such. 

This sounds as though we were on the go all the time and 
that is not true at all. We stay home quite a bit. Last night was 
the anniversary of the day I met Elaine five years ago. We 
drank champagne and had an era of good feeling. E. has 
stuck to her bed today. She says it started out as a hangover 
and then she got to liking it. 

We are the luckiest people in the world. First in getting this 
house and then in finding a wonderful cook, and she is won- 
derful, and now we have a fine maid and the whole bunch 
like it with us and the house is very gay. The Spanish con- 
cierge washes my shirts and makes them just beautiful. The 
cook, maid and concierge are all friends and they love being 
together, the place rings with happiness. And my work is 
coming well now and that makes me feel lucky also. So you 
see, you will just have to come over. I’ll write a couple of 
extra stories to pay your expenses. 

And one more reason for you to come over! Think of the 
postage I would save. 

Love to all there, 
John 


Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II had 
taken over the writing as well as the production of 
the new musical. He wrote them jubilantly describ- 
ing the Paris house: 

“. . . next to Rothschilds and across the street from 
the President of France. How’s that for an address 
for a Salinas kid? Even if we were members of the 
F.F.S.V. (First Families of the Salinas Valley). 
Elaine has become Parisienne. I seem to retmn some 
vestiges of my past because everyone tries to sell me 
dirty pictures.” 


482 



To Elizabeth Otis 


Paris 

June 13, 1954 

Dear Elizabeth: 

Yesterday was Cat’s birthday and we celebrated good. He 
had his birthday dinner on the Eiffel Tower as he had re- 
quested. 

I had no sleep in me later so sat up and wrote a Figaro piece 
and part of another. The comment on the first two has been 
large and favorable. 

I had a good and long letter from Brenner [Gertrudis 
Brenner, a psychologist Steinbeck had consulted in New 
York the previous winter.] What a good woman she is! I 
kind of needed it too because I had taken a deep relapse. 
Got crowded by all the extra-marital facets of marriage 
and achieved a “what the hell” feeling that was like old 
times. Sometimes I do seem to pay a lot for marriage. But 
I suppose maybe I don’t give enough — only all I have. And 
I’m sure I’m a thankless, ungrateful son of a bitch for 
even thinking this. I just don’t have any place to run to, it 
seems sometimes. Anyway, the remarkable thing was that 
just when I hit bottom the letter came from Brenner tell- 
ing me to be not too worried if I took a dive because it 
was perfectly natural. She must know by the quality of 
progress about when it will happen — like a drunk who 
falls oflF the wagon. Anyway, it gave me hope that the 
backslide was not permanent. Day before yesterday I had 
blood tests and a new electrocardiogram. Good man too. 
Said my heart seemed all right for anyone who was as old 
and as nervous as I am. Also said he would advise against 
climbing Mt. Everest and that I probably smoked too 
much. Said heart was fast, as everyone says. After he 
looks at the old cardiographs I am going to have a long 
talk with him. And then forget the whole damned thing. I 
am not likely to get less nervous. I may stop smoking per- 
haps but that would be largely because I am disgusted 
with the whole process. And again I may not. I wouldn’t 

483 



even try to cut down. It would have to be all or nothing. I 
might try stopping for a week or so, just to see how hard 
it might be. 

I’ve got two more Figaro pieces but haven’t got to the sec- 
ond short story yet. Oscar Hammerstein sent me the first 
three scenes of the show, complete with lyrics and just won- 
derful. He seems happy about it and so am I. 

Don’t worry about my complaining in the beginning of this 
letter. I guess I’m just bitching. I’m a little like an automo- 
bile. Get one flat tire and you want to throw the whole thing 
away. Wish to God I could learn to write as I would like to 
write. I fall so damn far short every time. But I’ll keep plug- 
ging and damn it — one day I’ll maybe turn up with some- 
thing. The next story might have something in it — ^if I ever 
get it written. 

So long and love, 
John 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Paris 

June 14, 1954 

Dear Elizabeth: 

Last night was the big Kermesse in the Tuileries Gar- 
den for charity. There were literally hundreds of thou- 
sands of people standing and sitting in the rain. They car- 
ried our names on big cards and we had to walk down a 
long runway. There were actors and picture people. Then 
I went to a booth where with all of the French writers I 
autographed I guess a thousand books and more cards. 
People had to buy the books and that goes to the charity. I 
asked if Del Duca [his French publisher] gave the books 
without profit and they said no. As a matter of fact he un- 
loaded just about a whole edition of La Flamme [Burning 
Bright]. It was a most shocking experience and at the 
same time very interesting. I did it for nearly four hours 


484 



yesterday and my hand nearly came off at the wrist. 

Next week I have to go to a formal dinner being given to 
me by the French Academy. Don’t I get to do the damnedest 
things? 

Love to all, 
John 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Paris 

June 17, 1954 

Dear Elizabeth; 

The short stories languish. I have been thinking about 
them a lot, heaven knows. 

It seems to me that most writers in America, and I my- 
self among them, have gone almost entirely in the direc- 
tion of the past. We are interested in setting down and cel- 
ebrating old times. It is almost as though we wanted to 
define a past which probably never did exist. The stories 
of childhood, the stories of the frontier, the novels of one’s 
old aunts, etc. This is fine but there can be enough of it. 
There are very few American writers, notably writing for 
the New Yorker, who write about today or even today pro- 
jected into the future. With something of a shock I realize 
that I have written about nothing current for a very long 
time. It has occurred to me that we may be so confused 
about the present that we avoid it because it is not clear 
to us. But why should that be a deterrent? If this is a time 
of confusion, then that should be the subject of a good 
writer if he is to set down his time. For instance, the 
effect on young people of the McCarthy hearings is going 
to be with them all their lives. The responses to this spec- 
tacle, whatever they are, are going to be one of the keys to 
our future attitudes toward everything. If such things are 
not written as fiction, a whole pattern of present-day 
thinking and feeling will be lost. We will have the records 


485 



but not what people felt about them. Do you have any 
thinking about this? I really wonder whether I am able to 
write such things. Might be very good to try. 

Love, 

jn 


To Gwyndolyn Steinbeck 

IN ROME 


Paris 

July 24, 1954 

Dear Gwyn: 

I had your letter this morning and hasten to answer so you 
will get this before you go away. I think it would be ridicu- 
lous, given the chance, that the boys should not see some of 
Italy before they go back. While they are looking, you don’t 
think they are getting anything and then it comes out later 
that they got a very great deal. So of course I will send them 
down to Rome. 

I don’t think there will be any difficulty here about travel- 
ling alone, and besides the kids are getting really good about 
doing things. I make a practice of letting them go out in the 
neighborhood alone and they are very careful about streets. 
It gives them a great sense of responsibility and besides they 
are learning a lot both of French and of Paris that way. Cat 
has made friends in the park right around the corner from 
us, both American and French kids. Yesterday he strolled 
down to the American Embassy which is two blocks away, 
walked up to the Marine Guard and said, “I hope you don’t 
mind my saying so, but haven’t you got very thick glasses?” 
And the guard said, “Hell, son, I got to see some way.” 

We are getting a boat on the Seine for Thom’s birthday and 
for his main present I got in Munich a racing car which runs 
with a real diesel engine. You may find that this he will want 
to carry in his hand but I can’t help that. It is a wonderful 
thing. No one could resist it, and of course he doesn’t know 
about it yet. Don’t you think as long as you are going to see 

486 



them within a very few weeks of Thom’s birthday, that a 
letter telling them of your plans for them and the statement 
that you will have a kind of second birthday for both of them 
in Rome, might not be the answer? Then they would have 
that to look forward to. 

Thom has dropped some stomach, but not as much as he 
should. They are swimming every day and walking for miles 
and that probably has as much to do with it as anything else. 
They are fine boys and very sweet and I think the summer 
has been very good for them. 

I do hope you will get at Thom’s block against reading and 
writing because that is what it is, a kind of a panic. He has 
told me that he knows things, which he does, but that he 
simply cannot write them down. When it is insisted that he 
write answers he goes into a blue funk, but he is quite capa- 
ble of reciting in great detail anything he has been told. If the 
block could be removed, he would be ahead of his age, not 
behind. 

If you want them earlier than we had thought, that will be 
all right too. I wish I could have seen Paris and Rome at their 
ages. 

So long, and let me hear from you. 

John 


To Elia Kazan 


Paris 

July 24, 1954 

Dear Gadg: 

A letter from Annie Laurie this morning with wonderful 
things she has heard about the film [East of Eden], I am eager 
to see it and I probably won’t until we go home in December. 
But it is good to have reports. Our summer is going fast and 
I am conscious of a stirring of restlessness. I shall not be 
averse to moving on when the time comes. The small short 
pieces I have been doing for Figaro are all right but not really 
satisfying. They must of necessity be so guided at the French 

487 



that perhaps they suffer from a special, almost precious 
quality. Here we have a whole nation with its feelings hurt 
and doubly touchy because of it. In conquered Germany you 
find the treacherous slavishness that will knife you when it 
can. But France is hurt in its pride, hurt in its whole concep- 
tion of itself. I have said some pretty brutal things in the 
pieces but I have coated them so that they could be received 
at all. And I am getting just a little tired of them. Treading 
lightly has never been one of my gifts. I want to build a life 
again and hell catch the hindmost. I am not a good diplomat. 
The role wears thin with me. We will have fun the rest of the 
time but I think right at this moment, I am a little homesick 
for 206. 

Waverly and her friend set out on their trip to Greece in a 
rented car. The boys have about six more weeks with us 
before they have to go. 

It’s along in the summer now so that we begin to think 
Greeceward. Are you so thinking? We haven’t really made 
any plans yet. In fact we are kind of holding up ours so they 
can match yours if that is possible. 

I know how busy you are but I do like to hear from you and 
your Moll. Would you care to dig a secret tunnel between the 
houses? We went to a chateau the other night that has four 
or five of them. And we think we live in dangerous times. 

So long 
John 


Steinbeck was fond of Dorothy Rodgers, the com- 
poser’s wife, and admired her for her several suc- 
cessful inventions. 


488 



To Mrs. Richard Rodgers 


[Paris] 

July 25, 1954 

Dear Dorothy: 

I have an invention which I would like to submit for your 
consideration, while your husband is undertaking his vari- 
ous artistic assignments (surely a desirable practice but not 
a money maker as we more practical people understand it). 

There should be several approaches to an invention. First, 
is it needed, second, can you make people believe it is needed, 
third, are replacements needed? I believe that my invention 
fulfills nearly all of these. 

Many millions of women wash out their underwear and 
stockings every night usually in the wash basin of the bath 
rooms. A goodly number of them leave the clothing soaking 
in the basin so that a male getting up a little earlier, has to 
wash his razor in the bath tub. There is nothing glamourous 
about washing stockings, panties and bras. 

One night having nothing to do, I put a couple of pairs of 
my own nylon socks in a fruit jar with one third water and 
a little detergent, replaced the cap and shook the jar about 
twenty times like a cocktail shaker. It worked very well. I 
then added four marbles to the thing and it worked doubly 
well because the marbles did the rubbing thing and greatly 
speeded up the process. This is the whole principle but a 
fruit jar is much too simple. 

I have considered a plastic jar made like an hour glass with 
a screw cap on one of the ends, wide mouth for the introduc- 
tion of the intimate garments. The narrow part of the hour 
glass to serve as a handle for the whole thing and also to 
cause the water and soap to cause a minor tornado when the 
whole is shaken. Instead of marbles the activators should be 
round balls of some semi-hard wood like beech wood, so 
smooth that they could not injure fabric and not heavy 
enough to crush. The lower part of the thing is filled with 
warm water, and on top of this a tiny envelope of detergent 
rather beautifully perfumed should be added. The top is then 

489 



put on and the whole thing shaken say thirty times. This will 
completely wash ordinarily dirty things. If they are more 
than ordinarily dirty the clothing may be left in the con- 
tainer over night, in the morning a little more shaking and 
rinsed in the basin. 

The containers should be made of a plastic in the colors to 
match various bath rooms, pink, yellow, blue, green or black. 
The packets of soap should be distinctive, (just ordinary soap 
or detergent but perfumed, sandalwood, lavender, etc.). The 
packets should not be expensive but should be exactly the 
proper amount so that one envelope washed one set of cloth- 
ing. This is the replacement so necessary to any paying in- 
vention. The advertising should say that you keep your 
hands out of soap and keep your husband from blowing his 
brains out. The container itself should be rather handsome 
so that it would be one more of those bits of clutter which we 
love so well. 

It is that simple and darn me if I don’t think it would work. 
A little advertising magic about the gentle swirling of water, 
the caressing of the soap and the clean soapless hands. It 
should have a gay name like the socktail shaker and the 
indication that the thirty shakes of the thing reduced weight 
and. built up the bust while with the other hand one washed 
ones teeth. 

Please give my hearty regards to Richard and Oscar and all 
others there. And we will see you just before Christmas. 

Yours in invention 
John 

P.S. If you don’t believe my invention, put some stockings in 
a fruit jar and try it. 


490 



To Marcia Ross of the mc intosh and otis staff 
and Sol Leibner 


Paris 

August 20, 1954 

Dear Marcia and Sol: 

I am writing you a joint letter because there are a number 
of things I want to say and to ask in a number of fields, 
financial, spiritual, aesthetic, economic, pragmatic and you 
will probably add psychotic. 

A letter from Sol recently said I only had forty-five hundred 
dollars in the bank, left out of seventy thousand that had 
come in this year so far. I do not think it is very good policy 
to scare me. I have not spent any money I could have avoided 
spending except possibly for the car. I could have bought one 
of those second hand dogs which do not work. Anyway, I 
went into a tailspin and for a week was so concerned with my 
brokeness and with the seeming impossibility of ever pulling 
out that I was incapable of working. In other words, the time 
taken out for worry about my shaky financial status took the 
time and more than the effort of three short stories or one 
long one. I imagine this could be estimated in money from 
previous performance. 

At the end of the tailspin I pulled myself out with the 
following self-indulgence. OK, I had 4,500 dollars in the 
bank. But I have money coming in regularly. I have 24% of 
the movie East of Eden just finished. I have a best-selling 
novel which is doing very well and a percentage in the musi- 
cal which will be made of it. I am not in debt except for the 
mortgage on the house which I am told is simple good busi- 
ness. I do have to pay alimony and that apparently is a per- 
manent situation but it comes off the top before taxes. 

In other words, in resources and futures I am not only in 
better shape than I have ever been but in better shape than 
anyone I know, but if I can be made to worry enough the 
work that is at the source of this income can be dried up at 
the source. 

Now I can skimp worriedly along. 


491 




It should be understood that he was living in a 
beautiful house in Paris, maintaining a household, 
of eight people including family and stafF, and driv- 
ing a new Jaguar. 

I am getting to feel guilty if I even consider buying a pair of 
pliers. My glasses are mended with wire because I don’t want 
to spend the money for new frames. I can’t control the 
kitchen or the number of people who eat here. Do you realize 
that this is all a bunch of bloody nonsense? I have a life 
expectancy which is dwindling and I’m not having any fun. 
I am living in the most beautiful city in the world working 
my ass off. For what? For whom? And when I’m not working 
it off I’m worrying it off. 

So I can’t get insurance. My insurability is not going to be 
improved by worry. I have to make up my mind whether I am 
going to be a bookkeeper or a writer. I don’t think I can be 
both and if I am not a writer there will not be anything to 
keep books about. I get a to hell with it feeling pretty often 
now. The more money I make the more trouble I’m in. I 
actually feel guilty to ask for four hundred dollars to buy a 
magnificent painting because I can’t see any way to deduct 
it. I must kill this growing fixation pretty quickly or I’m not 
going to be around very long. 

Since I am about to set out on traveling and since Elaine 
will have to close this house, I think the next draft should be 
sizable. I am gathering almost inexhaustible material and I 
can’t buy it with peanuts. 

Every trip may be the last and I’m not going to spend the 
rest of my life to make my heirs happy. There has never been 
in the history of the world enough money to make heirs 
happy. 

I do not mean this letter to be a charge of anything or an 
attack on anything. I just want to let you know that I have to 
get rid of an attitude which is poisoning me and killing off 
not only my work but my desire to work. 

Now that is as ill-tempered a letter as I ever remember 
writing but it is only aimed at a state of mind I must get rid 
of. 

Love to all there and please don’t take this too much to 
heart. But I also hope you will know how serious I am about 
it. 


492. 


John 



To Mrs. Richard Rodgers 


Paris 

August 26, 1954 

Dear Dorothy: 

Thank you for your letter about inventions. Maybe I’d bet- 
ter stick to my last or even my first. My grandfather Sam 
Hamilton was always inventing things and patenting them. 
Mother claimed he kept the family broke with fees to patent 
lawyers. When he got a good one it was stolen so fast it whis- 
tled. And then he kept us broke with an infringement suit 
which he lost through running out of money. 

I think I’ll go on inventing on the side. Some years ago I 
invented silk slip covers for the lapels of a dark suit to make 
it a dinner jacket. The stripe went on with straps — ^whole kit 
10 bucks. It was for salesmen and for people who fly a lot and 
can’t take much luggage. A lovely idea. A friend of mine in 
the clothing business told me it would not be popular with 
the clothing industry. 

Then I invented stirrups for long nightgowns to keep them 
from climbing (unless you want them to). This just got me in 
trouble with the pyjama industry. My final defeat came 
when I invented people. 

Well, Somer ben a goin oot. When we all get home — ^let’s 
have a hell of a winter. 

Love to Dick 

John 


493 




To Pascal Covici 


Paris 

September 2, 1954 

Dear Pat; 

Everything seems to be ending at one time which is as it 
should be. The printed stationery is gone. The boys left for 
Rome yesterday and Waverly goes tonight; that leaves Elaine 
and me until the 9th. Then we go to London. 

The boys went very gaily. We will not do what Gwyn does 
— that is let any sadness creep in. The night before we had 
a party for them and drank champagne and toasted them 
and they toasted us and we sang songs. In the morning we all 
went out to the airport with them, and made a fiesta of it. I 
feel sad without them but I don’t want them to know it. I 
think it’s much the better way, don’t you? With Way it doesn’t 
make so much difference. She has so many interests outside 
of us. And later the boys will have that too. I am not worried 
about them any more. They are so alive and good. They will 
get througli just fine in spite of Gwyn and me — not because of 
us. I feel really good about them. I do have the habit of listen- 
ing for them on the stairs but that will go away in a few days. 

I have three more pieces of writing to do before I go to 
London. Maybe I can get started on them tomorrow. The 
Figaro pieces are completed in a blaze of glory. It has been 
a good series I think and I have liked doing it. I don’t want 
to do anything but short things until I get home. Then I hope 
I will have a sharp clarity and a whole new approach toward 
the new book. And do you know — ^if I start work on it soon 
after the first of the year I will probably have it done by fall. 
I think about it a lot but I try not to think too closely about 
it because that would be like writing it. 

Well, we put Waverly on the plane last night. Everyone a 
little tearful and so the summer of the children ended. 

Now it’s later in the day and I have managed to do a little 
work. But it isn’t good work and must be thrown out. Too bad. 

love to all 

John 

494 



And to Elizabeth Otis: 

“Time in Paris is closing up now. Filled with the 
restlessness of ending things.” 


To Webster F. Street 


Paris 

September 6 [1954] 

Dear Toby: 

Your good letter came this morning, full of news and 
cracks. I am answering it right away because Elaine and I 
are leaving Paris the day after tomorrow. 

It’s amazing how I have lost touch with the West Coast 
but inevitable. I haven’t heard from anyone out there in 
such a long time. And why would I? There’s no point of 
contact. New York is my home and I think Paris will be 
increasingly. I love it here. Maybe some time I will have a 
permanent apartment here. Of course I hear from my sis- 
ters regularly but all of the other contacts shrink down. I 
haven’t heard from Dook for a very long time. I think he 
resents me. And perhaps I deserve it. But shoot — I only 
have one little life and there isn’t a hell of a lot left of it 
and I want to have as much fun with it as I can. And as- 
sociations are only kept alive if there is proximity. People 
change and each resents the change in the other, not 
thinking he has changed. And it isn’t actually change 
either but only a non parallel existence. I have always 
been a mobile unit in wish if not in actuality. I thought 
that in middle age I would get over the restlessness — ^but I 
don’t. It’s just the same. I even go through the form of es- 
tablishing a home. But it’s only a place to go away from 
and to come back to. I am fortunate in that Elaine has 
my same restlessness. She will move at the stir of a suit- 
case. 

I guess I don’t know anyone very well any more. Right now 
I know Paris better than any place — and pretty soon it will be 


495 



Rome or as Thom spells it Roam. Maybe he has the blood too. 
love to you and Lois and the new generation 

John 


To Mr. and Mrs. Elia Kazan 


Hotel Ritz 
London 

September 14, 1954 

Dear Gadg and Molly; 

Drawing a white night. Have been seeing a lot of theatre. 
Some good but I even like the bad. I have no taste. Wish I 
could talk to you. A whole revolution is going on in me. I talk 
and talk and I don’t know whether or not it means anything. 
I suspect it does. I do nothing except short pieces. Good thing. 
I’m not ready to start yet. When I do it’s going to bust a gut. 
It’s hard to throw over 30 years work but necessary if the 
work has pooped out. It isn’t that it was bad but that I’ve used 
it up. 

Do you think I could write a play with no tricks, just he said 
and she said? 

love to all there 
John 


496 


To Elizabeth Otis 


London 

September 17, 1954 

When a writer starts in very young, his problems apart 
from his story are those of technique, of words, of rhythms, 
of story methods, of transition, of characterization, of ways 
of creating effects. But after years of trial and error most of 
these things are solved and one gets what is called a style. It 
is then that a story conceived falls into place neatly and is 
written down having the indelible personal hallmark of the 
writer. This is thought to be an ideal situation. And the 
writer who is able to achieve this is thought to be very fortu- 
nate. 

I have only just arrived at a sense of horror about this 
technique. If I think of a story, it is bound automatically to 
fall into my own personal long struggle for technique. But 
the penalty is terrible. The tail of the kite is designed to hold 
it steady in the air but it also prevents versatility in the kite 
and in many cases drags it to the earth. Having a technique, 
is it not possible that the technique not only dictates how a 
story is to be written but also what story is to be written? In 
other words, style or technique may be a straitjacket which 
is the destroyer of a writer. It does seem to be true that when 
it becomes easy to write the writing is not likely to be any 
good. Facility can be the greatest danger in the world. But is 
there any alternative? Suppose I want to change my themes 
and my approach. Will not my technique, which has become 
almost unconscious, warp and drag me around to the old 
attitudes and subtly force the new work to be the old? 

I want to dump my technique, to tear it right down to the 
ground and to start all over. I have been thinking of this a lot. 
I think I have one answer but I have not developed it enough 
to put it down yet. 

[tmsigned] 


497 




To Graham Watson 

OF CURTIS BROWN, LTD., STEINBECK’S ENGUSH AGENT 


Saint Paul de Vence, France 
September 29 [1954] 

Dear Graham: 

We have been driving very slowly, savoring the country the 
way you’d run wine around the back of your tongue. It is 
lovely. The first relaxed thing I’ve had in many years. 

I am wearing the hat with great success. Men, prone to take 
it lightly as a piece of solid British frippery, are thrown into 
a paroxysm of admiration at the beautiful salmon flies. 

I have cut off my moustache for the first time in 30 years 
— Elaine is not sure she likes me with a nude face. After all 
she does not like to move furniture. It occurred to me after 
all of these years that retaining a little scrap of hair as a 
memorial of an hairy time was silly. I think I grew it in the 
first place because my upper lip is so long I was afraid people 
would try to put a bit in my mouth. But it is more probable 
that I aspired to an erudition and a Latin sophistication and 
maturity I felt was withheld. Now that I am sure these latter 
are not possible I have got rid of the poor gesture. I once had 
a beard — ^but shaved it off when I found I was trying to live 
up to it. It’s bad enough to have confused impulses but worse 
if you can’t remember what they were. 

We wish you were with us. The weather is warm and 
autumnal. 

love to both 
John 


The moustache reappeared almost at once. Not 
many years later he grew the beard again and kept 
it for the rest of his life. 


498 




To Elizabeth Otis 


Saint Paul de Vence 
September 29, 1954 

Dear Elizabeth; 

We have been driving very slowly. We have stayed in 
beautiful places. Last night at Les Baux and wandered in the 
ghost city. You undoubtedly know Saint Paul de Vence. It is 
above the Mediterranean in back of Nice but is a little walled 
medieval town. Just got in a little while ago so have only seen 
a little part of it. I have thought so much about the screed I 
sent you from London re technique [see page 497] and it 
seems truer to me all of the time. And the necessity for a new 
start is also valid. I have thought and am still thinking of the 
transition. Perhaps the hard discipline of play which does 
not have the advantage of the novelist’s apology and expla- 
nation but only the iron discipline of form and the require- 
ment that dialogue carry the whole burden not only of move- 
ment but of character. This is something I do not know and 
so would have to struggle with. But I have no idea in this of 
abandoning the novel but only of starting fresh with it. Per- 
haps some transition work in this form would do it. I am 
purposely not writing anything now. But it will not be too 
long before I will have to. And I would like to have some 
clean approach. I thought of a little playlet last night when 
I could not sleep. A strange little story I haven’t thought of for 
years and which I now might be able to write. I will probably 
bore you with these searchings for quite a long time. Excuse 
it please. It is more than important to me. 

Love to all, 

John 


499 



To Elizabeth Otis 


Rome 

October 29, 1954 

Dear Elizabeth: 

I think I will start a letter to you tonight. The reception for 
me [at the Embassy] was quite pleasant and no strain at all. 
The guest list was pretty fabulous. One amusing thing hap- 
pened. They wanted to make a display of some of my books. 
They have about 70 volumes of various titles in the library. 
Not one was in and they couldn’t get them in, so they had to 
go out and buy a dozen copies. 

Last night Mrs. Luce [American Ambassador to Italy] asked 
us to a cocktail party and then to a very small dinner party. 
It was pleasant and we both think she is a pretty remarkable 
woman. 

News last night of Hemingway’s Nobel Prize which 
pleases me greatly. He should have had it before this. 

Italy is full of flying saucers. In the street the other day 
everyone was looking up. Thousands of people said they 
saw something. Clare Luce says she saw something. A 
football game stopped the other day and 60 thousand peo- 
ple saw three of them go over. I myself have not seen any- 
thing but all Italy is greatly excited, I am asked what I 
think about it in every interview. I have a stock answer 
which I may even believe. People see things. In the Mid- 
dle Ages they saw angels. Later witches. Now saucers. I 
don’t know what is there but I do know that people see 
things. Always have. 

Strange. I have a feeling that everything has stopped 
and is waiting — rather like some Sunday afternoons or 
the hour before a party. A change is coming. I can feel 
it very plain. And it is a good change. This is real dope 
talk as far as reason is concerned but it is a skin feel- 
ing. And maybe that is as good a way as any to evalu- 
ate. 

Elaine is out doing last-minute shopping (Christmas). We 
500 




have a must list as long as your arm. Seems to jump every 
year. 

I guess that’s all. I have to write to the boys. 

Love, 

John 


To Pascal Covici 


Positano, Italy 
December i, 1954 

Dear Pat; 

Now we’re on the last lap. Tomorrow we go to Naples and 
Sunday get on the boat. We’ve had it. Both kind of worn out. 
It’s been a long haul and perhaps we have seen too much. 
That is very possible. We will stop at Pompei and Her- 
culaneum on our way to Naples though. We went to Salerno 
and to Red Beach where I landed ten years ago. It looks 
different. They have planted little pines where it was all 
shell holes and blood. But the place still had a kind of horrid 
charge for me like a remembered nightmare. I never did 
write what I really thought of the war. It wouldn’t have been 
encouraging to those who had to fight it. But some of the 
disgust and sorrow came back on that beach two days ago. 
And people blithely talk about another one. You can never 
talk people out of fighting. Every new generation has to know 
by trying. Thucydides says it was true in his day. 

Anyway, we’ll be seeing you soon now. It is going to be very 
comfortable to slide under my writing board even if I just sit 
there and do nothing. 

Elaine sends love to all. 

John 


501 




must say' 
Ido Ijave fuii witli 
my prqfessiori. ...” 






When the Steinbecks had rented the house in Sag 
Harbor, Long Island, during the summer of 1953, he 
was immediately attracted to the village. It was for 
him an East Coast equivalent of the Monterey 
Peninsula. In the spring of 1955, he bought a small 
house outside the village, in an oak grove on a cove. 
It marked his complete acceptance of the East Coast 
as his permanent home. 



Webster F. Street 


Sag Harbor 
July 5, 1955 

Dear Toby: 

This afternoon, we are taking our boat off Montauk Point 
to fish for blues. They are fine fighting fish and wonderful to 
eat and they are said to be running well right now. It is about 
a forty-five minute run in our boat which will do thirty-four 
miles an hour if it has to. It is a sea skiff, lapstrake, twenty 
feet long and eight feet of beam and a hundred horse power 
Grey marine engine. I could cross the Atlantic in her if I 
could carry the gasoline. Has a convertible top like a car so 
that you can put it up when green water comes over the bow. 
Also it only draws eighteen inches so we can take it into little 
coves and very near the shore if only we watch the charts for 
rocks and depth. This is fabulous boating country and fishing 
country too. 

We bring them home alive and cook them while they are 
still kicking and are they delicious. My fear of starvation 

505 



disappears when I am near the ocean. I figure I can always 
catch my dinner. And the Atlantic is very much richer in 
varieties than the Pacific. Lobsters, clams, crabs, oysters and 
many kinds of fish. I really love it out here. Am going to 
winterize this little house so I can come up when it is cold. 
My little harbor freezes over and then you fish through the 
ice. The house needs double walls and an oil furnace but I’ll 
do a lot of it myself. 

I am actually losing some stomach working around here 
and haven’t felt so good in years. Maybe I shall come to a 
healthy old age rather than a sickly one. Best of all, maybe 
I shall not come to any old age at all. I remember how Ed 
Ricketts used to be haunted by thought of age. He was neu- 
rotic about it. I’ve often thought that if he hadn’t been killed 
he would have had a miserable time of it because I do not 
think he could have accepted change. In himself, I mean. 

You know, Toby, I notice something in you that is also true 
in me. You are sharply critical of any theatre you see. I am 
also when I don’t see much of it but I become much kinder 
and accepting when I see a lot of it and I become kindest 
when I have a show myself. Have you ever gone through the 
putting of a show together with all the work and hope and 
sweat? I guess that is why professionals are the best audience 
in the world. Oscar Hammerstein says that when you buy a 
ticket to the theatre you have more or less contracted to go 
along with it and furnish your part to the general illusion. 
God knows it is a hard enough medium and when it clicks it 
is just great. 

The wind is coming up. We’re going to have a really rough 
trip this afternoon and that is when I really love my boat. It 
is such a good sea boat, just kind of loves itself into the waves 
instead of fighting them. I guess it is the same hull the Vi- 
kings used and they got around. 

That’s all for this time. I have to write some letters of 
refusal. I get asked to speak more damned places and word 
doesn’t seem to get around that I don’t ever speak any place 
about anything. 

love to you 
and all of yours 
John 


506 



To Mr. and Mrs. Elia Kazan 

IN ISTANBUL 


New York 

[1955] 

Dear Molly and Gadg: 

We think you are writing way beyond the call of duty. The 
picture with the beard came in this morning — formidable. 
Do you think you will keep it when you get back? The trip 
sounds fine. I do hope you won’t let any business interfere 
with your trip. I am taking care of all that for you. I have 
signed you up to direct two plays and I hope you like them. 
Meanwhile, I am casting and my sincere wish is that you will 
approve of the people I am getting. I have agreed for you to 
go into rehearsal on the first one, Dog Island, June i8th. You 
should be ready for the second one. Blindness Alley, early in 
September. Do you want me to take on anything else for you 
after that? 

I’ve made a few changes in your office which I know will 
please you. I wallpapered it with a gay, flowered pattern and 
painted the ceiling black. Then I took out all those ugly wood 
cabinets and put in two breakfronts of Chinese Chippendale. 
It makes the office seem kind of airy. I removed that curved 
couch which was giving me round shoulders and put in a 
double bed which speeded up casting immensely. Along the 
front (Times Square side) I put a row of windowboxes with 
red geraniums. It brightens the whole neighborhood. 

Marie [Kazan’s secretary] has made a great comeback. She 
was married last week and about time. I’m going to be godfa- 
ther. She married a real nice boy in the artificial limb trade 
and she seems to be very happy. He gave her a sterling silver 
kneecap for a wedding present. In your absence I exercise 
the droit de seigneur. I hate to see beautiful old customs 
lapse. 

Well, old pal, as you can see I’m standing in for you. Don’t 
worry about a thing. The crack down the front of your house 
is not serious at all. Molly’s mother just got excited about it 
the way women will, but I showed her how to stuff it with 
newspapers and practically no draft gets in now. 


507 



We both send love. This may be the last time I can catch 
you. Don’t take any wooden drachma. 


John 


To Waverly Scott 

ABOUT TO BECOME ENGAGED 


Sag Harbor 
July 8, 1955 

Dear Way: 

This letter is just as private as you want to make it. You can 
do with it what you want including what you just thought of. 

Everyone in the world is going to give you advice. That is 
not my intention. I always suspect advice because the advisor 
is usually the least equipped person to give it, i.e. child coun- 
sellors who have no children, marriage helpers who have 
never married. 

I have a feeling, although this association is pretty damned 
sexy that it is also pretty carefully thought out. Many times 
when it was considered that you were romantically stunned, 
you were just sleepy. 

I would like to ask you certain questions and I don’t want 
to know the answers. They are things drawn out of my own 
messy past. If I had known about them then I probably would 
have done exactly the things I did, and yet the answers to 
them bore little disasters. 

You know of course without my telling you that no two 
people can ever like each other all the time under all circum- 
stances. Also, it is equally true that if you know everything 
that is going to happen to you, you wouldn’t get married at 
all. 

I always thought that the marriage was between me and 
the girl I was marrying and that it isn’t anybody’s business. 
And this was true except that anybody makps it his business. 
You think you are going in a? an individual, cut off and free 
and gradually you find that you have a trail on you like a 
comet and that the other party has too. You don’t lose these 

508 



trails. There is no way to. I think the service says, “Forsaking 
all others—” but no one forsakes all others. And doesn’t the 
Old Testament say that first and final loyalty is to wife and 
husband? That also is not possible. Families have a way of 
sticking around and background does too. 

My questions are simple and terrible. They are not per- 
sonal and they don’t have to do with Jim. Therefore you can 
show this letter to him if you wish or if you think well. 

1. After the hay, (and believe me I am not knocking it, I love 
it) is the other person fun? Under ideal conditions the very 
best time is after when you are fulfilled and content and 
open. Sex is a kind of war but the quiet time after, if there 
is love and interest, is about the only time when a man and 
woman get together and become one thing. Then they merge 
and their minds as well as their bodies are a unit. This 
doesn’t happen too often unfortunately but it is one of the 
diagnostics of success. If it is that way then there is a chance. 

2. You can get around and accept big things in another 
person. It is the tiny things that drive you crazy. Carol picked 
at her finger nails all of the time and knowing it bothered me 
she did it more, not out of meanness but simply because she 
couldn’t control it. I suppose it was unconscious punishment 
of me for things in me that bothered her. Odors are curious 
things too. Elaine’s skin smells to me like new grass, a lovely 
smell. But I knew a girl whose skin smelled like earth under 
an old house. It bothered me but I thought I could ignore it 
or get used to it, but the fact of the matter is that you can’t 
ignore anything. Small things do not disappear. They grow. 
And small things in yourself grow to the other person. For 
instance your chewing ice imtates me. If I were marrying 
you it would irritate me increasingly. And being mad about 
something else, I might put all the irritation on the ice chew- 
ing. Do you see what I mean? 

3. This question has to do with families. You may think you 
can get away from them but you can’t. They are part of the 
trail of the comet. Do you like Jim’s family to the point that 
you can associate with them indefinitely? Do they like you or 
do they want to change you? You see Jim is not just about to 
abandon his mother when he marries you any more than you 
are about to abandon yours. Unconsciously a mother is al- 
ways a danger to a marriage whether she is or not. 

4. This is a snob question but it should be asked because 
everybody is a snob to some degree. Do you approve of Jim 


509 



socially? Do you approve of Jim’s family intellectually and 
socially? The only way you can test yourself in this question 
is to ask whether there is anyone in the world or any group 
in the world to whom you would hesitate in introducing Jim 
or Jim’s family — Mrs. Roosevelt? Laurence Olivier? Princess 
Margaret? Munna [her grandmother, Zachary Scott’s 
mother]? Mrs. Bacon [a teacher]? Adlai Stevenson? 

Does Jim approve of you socially? Does his family approve 
of you? Would they hesitate in introducing you to anyone in 
any field? Don’t forget your recent background is actors, gyp- 
sies and vagrants. Could they be shy and embarrassed about 
Zack who is an actor or me who am a writer, and both of 
these trades are unusual. 

5. This is an outside question. If Jim should by illness or 
accident become incapable of sex for an extended period, 
would you find him attractive? Are you jealous of him? Do you 
resent affairs he may have had in the past? Does he resent 
affairs you may have had in the past? If you were ill and not 
capable of sex for an extended period, would he find you fun? 

6. Jim has to make a living. In a way this is a large part of 
his life. He has to do it in his own way and within his capaci- 
ties. Since you will both have to live largely on his efforts, 
this becomes your business too. Are you capable of going 
along with it, helping with it? 

In the event that you should in the future find that keeping 
house and participating in Jim’s work were not enough for 
you, would you be capable of taking up some other work or 
enthusiasm and would Jim tolerate this? There can be much 
more violent jealousies of interests than of people. 

I hope you won’t take this letter as one of disparagement. 
I think this marriage has as good a chance as any of succeed- 
ing and a much better chance than most. Jim is a man and 
that is a very great thing, to be a man, and it is a handy thing 
in a marriage. 

There is only one thing about the wedding I could wish and 
that is a completely selfish one having nothing to do with 
your marriage but only with my own participation in the 
social end of it. I wish you could put it off until Christmas or 
a little after. We have this show with which I have to be 
constantly. Elaine naturally will want to be with me and it 
would limit our participation. 

You don’t have to answer this, by the way. 

lovejohn 


510 



The engagement did not take place. 


To Webster F. Street 


New York 
September 23 [1955] 

Dear Toby: 

Summer is over and I am always glad. Now the cool 
weather is coming and that’s my favorite time. We love our 
little place on Long Island but I love New York too. The show 
[Pipe Dream] is in rehearsal and Lord! it’s a good show. Fine 
score and book and wonderful direction and cast. I was 
standing with Oscar Hammerstein yesterday when the lines 
about the Webster F. Street Lay Away Plan came up. And it 
occurs to me that I have never asked your permission to use 
your name. Do you mind? It’s a lovely line and I would hate 
to drop it and besides it kind of ties you in with the show. You 
know in South Pacific Mary Martin took the name of her 
oldest friend. In the show within a show she says — “The 
dialogue was written by Bessie May Sue Ella Yeager.” Well 
Bessie May Sue Ella Yeager used to come up from Texas 
every three months just to hear Mary Martin declaim her 
name. I hope you will let me keep your name in this show as 
a kind of good luck piece. 

This is just a note because I am working on a book in the 
morning and going to rehearsals in the afternoon and it’s a 
pretty full life. But please give me permission to use your 
name. You won’t be ashamed I’m sure. 

love to all there — 
John 



To Carlton A. Sheffield 


New York 
September 23, 1955 

Dear Dook: 

I’m told it is an ugly business to answer a letter right away. 
But if I don’t, it is likely I never will. Yours came this morn- 
ing and I do the ugly thing about it. 

Your remarks about elastic time caught me with the same 
thought after a fairly quiet summer. We have a little shack 
on the sea out on the tip of Long Island at Sag Harbor. It’s a 
whaling town or was and we have a small boat and lots of oak 
trees and the phone never rings. We run there whenever we 
need a rest — no neighbors, and fish and clams and crabs and 
mussels right at the door step. I just got it this spring and I 
love it. Anyway the summer zipped by. But everything zips 
by. The pressures come and go. Or maybe it is that sometimes 
they get me and sometimes they don’t. Things don’t change 
really. I am just as restless as ever. And I’m just as scared of 
my own craft — and attracted to it also. You say you don’t 
know what I’m getting at. Neither do I. I just write what 
comes into my head and maybe sometimes it’s lousy but it’s 
the only thing I know to do. I write lots — perhaps too much 
but I never had any sense of proportion. I eat too much and 
drink too much and screw too much also. It’s all part of the 
same pattern and I don’t question it any more. 

I’m starting a new book and it is fun. They are all painful 
fun while I am doing them. I have a show in rehearsal too. 
It is a musical and I love to see them put it together. It’s a 
mystery to me how they do it. The dancers and the singers 
and the actors. I am very much the spectator in this one. Such 
pretty people — such pretty girls. We have some show girls 
who are perfectly exquisite. I’m not afraid of pretty girls as 
I once was and these kids are real warm and pleasant. 

I know my life seems restless and nervous to you and 
maybe it is. But you were never lazy and I am so lazy that I 
have to work very hard. Our social life is very easy. Now and 
then we have people to dinner and we go to dinner now and 
512 



then. We have a television but never turn it on. Now and then 
we go to the theatre or to a concert but mostly we have con- 
versation and reading and it’s not a bad life and it’s going by 
awfully fast. 

It’s been a long time since I have been west. Funny that it 
seems strange and a little foreign to me now. It’s a kind of a 
sad thing to me that I don’t much want to go back. You get 
tied to where you are I guess. And instead of the Grove cot- 
tage I have the Sag Harbor cottage. But I’ve never seen a 
national convention so next year I’m going to cover both of 
them— probably for the Louisville Courier-Journal— and I’ll 
hope to see you then. We kind of plan to drive around some 
and see relatives and friends. I’m having fun doing some 
little pieces for Punch— real crazy ones but the English seem 
to like them and I like doing them. 

Must stop and do some work. It was so good to get your 
letter. Do it more often — won’t you? 

love 

John 

[Marginal note] That eminence stuff is a bunch of crap. 


The book he mentions was an entirely experimental 
work. He never felt suf5ciently satisfied with it to 
show it to anyone else. 


513 



To Richard Rodgers 

IN MEMORIAL HOSPITAL 


New York 
September 27, 1955 

Dear Dick: 

Good reports of you from Oscar and Jerry White [Rodgers 
and Hammerstein Production Manager]. They say the 
wickedness goes on behind the bandages, business as usual. 
I wish I could think of something to make the time go quicker 
for you. 

We talked to your beautiful wife and to your burgeoning 
daughter and there is a good sign in their voices, which is 
better than a good report. 

You will be glad to know that Elaine is doing a really ade- 
quate job in your place in Piece Pipe. She has changed some 
of the songs around and re-written a few lyrics, but I am sure 
you will approve. She had to fire three actors but she re- 
placed them with her friends — good ambitious kids who can 
learn probably. Also, she has changed the ending. It takes 
place in a submarine putting out into the sunset with the 
anthem “Atoms Away, My Lads, Atoms Away.” But just rest 
easy. Everything is being done that can be done. 

Yesterday I had lunch with Helen Traubel [star of Pipe 
Dream] who, as you know, is one helluva woman. She wanted 
to know more about Fauna. I queried Oscar and he said it 
would be a good thing to do, so I dredged up some old memo- 
ries, posture, voice, clothes, gestures, anecdotes, etc., and I 
remembered some stories about Fauna’s archrival in Sali- 
nas, who was universally known and loved, by the name of 
Fartin’ Jenny. 

When I knew her she was an old woman with a patch over 
her left eye. She smoked black cigars and drank a mixture of 
whiskey and ether and late at night she would get to crying 
over her dead husband, Jerry, but through her tears her one 
eye never left the bedroom doors. Some of those girls weren’t 
honest. Anyway, when Fartin’ Jenny was a young girl, she 
was a cook in a whore house beside the Southern Pacific 
tracks in Salinas. Jerry was a gay and debonair fireman on 

514 



a switch engine, and as he went by the house, it was his habit 
to throw coal at Jenny’s cat. This she took as a declaration of 
love. They met eventually and married and while Jerry 
moved up the rungs to engineer. Fartin’ Jenny prospered and 
bought the house and her name went into song and story. 

The marriage was not all enchiladas and beans. In fact, the 
fighting was fairly constant and usually bloody. This love 
fest went on for twenty-five years. Jerry died peacefully in 
his bed of an old ball bat wound and as so often happens. 
Fartin’ Jenny was bereft without him; life had lost its per- 
fume. She wanted to do something spectacular for Jerry’s 
memory and she remembered that he had wanted to go to 
sea. Actually, he had said, “I’d rather be in the bottom of the 
Goddamn ocean than here with this bull bitch.” 

She decided to have him cremated and his ashes consigned 
to the deep. Well, she took the can of ashes and went to 
Monterey and rented a purse-seiner. Fartin’ Jenny, accom- 
panied by the gallant and beautiful and elite of the red-light 
districts of both Monterey and Salinas, together with an 
honor guard from the railroad brotherhoods, put out to sea. 
She climbed up forward, opened the can and got a handful 
of Jerry. She cried, “Jerry, mavourneen, I consign thee to the 
watery elements,” and she let fly with a handful of ashes. 
Well, the wind caught it and brought it right back in her face. 
Jenny went into her famous crouch and she yelled, “You 
black-hearted son-of-a-bitch, I might of known you’d try to 
get the last word.” There is a moral here somewhere. 

We love you 

John 


Pipe Dream opened in New Haven, and the initial 
enthusiasm began to fade. After forcing restraint on 
himself, Steinbeck wrote the producers (who were 
also the composer and writer) a series of long letters 
with suggestions for the show’s improvement. Again 
after the Boston opening, which was followed by 
disappointing notices, he wrote: 


515 



To Oscar Hammerstein II 


[Boston] 
[October 1955] 

Dear Oscar: 

The day after we opened in New Haven I wrote a kind of 
a report for you, but it wasn’t the proper time. You were 
heavily preoccupied with getting the show open at all. Now 
it does seem to me to be the proper time. If changes are to be 
made, they must be in the works. 

There are many very excellent things in Pipe Dream. If I 
do not dwell on them it is because you hear them everywhere 
and this letter purports to be a working document and not 
either a criticism or a flattery. I do not think this is a time to 
spare feelings nor to mince words. Compliments for the good 
things have sunk many works including my own late la- 
mented play which you will remember with a certain horror 
[Burning Bright]. Good people came to me after it had closed 
and told me what should have been done, and working on it 
by myself I only discovered completely what was wrong a 
year and a half later. And the crazy thing was that audiences 
were telling us all the time. And audiences are telling us 
now. We should listen! Your face is very well known so it may 
be that conversations stop when you are near. But mine isn’t. 
They don’t stop talking when I go by. 

Norton [Eliot Norton, Boston critic] used the word conven- 
tional to describe his uneasiness. I have heard others de- 
scribe the same thing as sweetness, loss of toughness, lack of 
definition, whatever people say when they feel they are be- 
ing let down. And believe me, Oscar, this is the way audi- 
ences feel. What emerges now is an old fashioned love story. 
And that is not good enough to people who have looked for- 
ward to this show based on you and me and Dick. When 
Oklahoma came out it violated every conventional rule of 
Musical Comedy. You were out on a limb. They loved it and 
were for you. South Pacific made a great jump. And even 
more you were ordered to go ahead. But Oscar, time has 
moved. The form has moved. You can’t stand still. That’s the 
516 



price you have to pay for being Rodgers and Hammerstein. 

The only thing this story has, besides some curious charac- 
ters, is the almost tragic situation that a man of high mind 
and background and culture takes to his breast an ignorant, 
ill-tempered little hooker who isn’t even very good at that. He 
has to take her, knowing that a great part of it is going to be 
misery, and she has to take him knowing she will have to live 
the loneliness of not even knowing what he is talking about 
if the subject gets above the belt, and yet each of them knows 
that the worse hell is the penalty of separation. 

I have suggestions for changing every one of the things 
attacked in this letter, Oscar. I think they are important or I 
would not go out on a limb for them. Will you think about 
them and then perhaps submit them to some outside person 
who is not too close to the show, someone like Josh [Joshua 
Logan] or maybe Lillian Heilman, or maybe Norton, anyone 
who knows theatre, whom you respect and whose word you 
can trust. I hope you will do this. I think we are in danger, 
not of failure but of pale and half-assed success which to me 
would be worse than failure. In a word we are in grave dan- 
ger of mediocrity. 

Should I run for the hills now? 

yours in the faith 
John 


Appended were specific, scene-by-scene, often line- 
by-line suggestions. 


517 



To Elia Kazan 


New York 
December 3, 1955 

Dear Gadg: 

Well, thank God that is over. We didn’t get murdered but 
we got nibbled pretty badly. I guess that was the coldest- 
assed audience I ever saw. They dared us and we lost. Then 
the notices said just exactly what I have been yelling about 
for six weeks and I think were completely just. R. and H. 
thought they could get away with it. And do you know, for the 
first time in their history, they are going to make some cuts 
and changes. The crazy thing is that I have written all the 
changes weeks ago and have turned them in. I don’t know 
whether they will ever look at them, but they are there. 

What really is the trouble is that R. and H. seem to be 
attracted to my kind of writing and they are temperamen- 
tally incapable of doing it. The burden of most of the reviews 
was that they had left the book. 

Tickets are still being bought and so far there are no re- 
turns. I don’t understand this but it’s true. I think the thing 
will run for a while. Another crazy thing is that this is a 
better show than most of the musicals running now. It just 
isn’t good enough for R. and H. I told them this in writing in 
New Haven. Even told them the story of Pickles Moffett in 
the fifth grade. He was a nice but illiterate little boy and my 
best friend. When we got the assignment to write a four line 
poem he went into shock and out of kindness I wrote two 
instead of one and gave one of them to Pickles to save his 
sanity. Well he got an A and I got a B. This outraged me 
because the verses were of about equal quality so I went to 
the teacher and asked her why. She said, and I remember her 
words very well, “What Pickles did was remarkable for Pick- 
les, but what you did was inferior for you.” 

W e’re going to the country on Monday for about three days. 
I want to get the reek out of my nose. I could do with some 
solitude. And I could do with some good solid work of my own 
kind. There are too damned many personalities and egos 
518 



involved in theatre. I guess I am really tired. And disap- 
pointed actors — the poor things. I feel so sorry for them. They 
can’t work unless we do something. It is the worst of crafts, I 
guess. Hell, I could take a nail and go out and scratch words on 
a limestone cliff and have some kind of fun, but actors can’t. 

I’m going shopping with my kids this afternoon down to a 
war surplus store. They want tents and sleeping bags and I 
understand the impulse very well. They want to run away 
and hide too and that is their symbol. 

We go out to the country this afternoon. I guess I had better 
stop this now. Hope the picture goes well, 

love to all there 
john 


The Steinbecks flew to Trinidad for the New Year’s 
holiday, were joined by their friend, John Fearnley, 
of the Rodgers and Hammerstein staflf, and sailed 
through the Windward and Leeward Islands. They 
took Calypso names: Inside Straight (Steinbeck) 
Queen Radio (Elaine Steinbeck) and Small Change 
(Fearnley). 

OLD STYLE AND NEW STYLE ELAINE 

Calypso written in honor of Trinidad, 

New Year’s Eve [1956] 
and my darling Elaine 

By that new and elegant 
CALYPSIST* * * * * 

INSIDE STRAIGHT 

Note 

This is a happy wedding of 
the Trinidad and the Texas schools 

Old style Elaine in a time gone by. 

Got a red hot yen for a lukewarm guy. 

She sit up river in Astolat 
Singing the blues for Sir Launcelot. 

She love him good and she love him here, 

But he buzzing the Queen Bee Guinevere. 


519 



Lancy signs for the horse event, 

Got a two-squire outfit and a purple tent. 
Two-to-one favorite in a jousting bout 
A big dam purse and the house sold out. 

But the champ sit fidgeting with Guinevere, 

Say “What I’m doing a mouldering here?” 

The Queen she say, “What I hear tell — 

You got you a pigeon and she raisin’ hell.” 

Old Miss Elaine make a bad erreur 
Got her a man but he ain’t got her. 

She a broke heart dame and she die real loud 
And they float her down the river in a lace-line 
shroud. 

Lancy get the message and he say real plain 
“I rather be a shroudin’ with Sweet Elaine.” 

Sugar Hill Guinevere she up her nose 

Give the real royal treatment ’til he dam near froze. 

Say “Don’t clank around, you poor tin thing. 

I got me a certify guarantee King. 

He top stock holder and Chairman of the Board 
With solid-gold armour an’ a platinum sword. 

And you. Sir Honey, you can paw the ground. 

But I got another Knighty on the Table Round.” 

Guinevere a queen and she act like same 
But she also a qualified female dame. 

Say, “Got me a king and what you got? 

A real dead lady at Astolat, 

A show boat funeral in a ten foot scow, 

Guess I’ll get me to a nunnery now.” 

Lance win the title but he feel bad 
So he pass on his gaxmtlet to Galahad. 

’Cause love is a double-joint two-way thing 
And he shouldn’t made a pass at Mrs. King. 

NEW STYLE ELAINE 

Now my Miss Elaine got a new-style set. 

She a high-breasted deep-breathing growed-up bru- 
nette. 

She tuck her behind in and she walk real proud. 
Got a B flat baritone C sharp loud. 

Say, “Listen, you rounders, and you’ll agree, 

I got me a man and he got me.” 

She rustle up her bustle and the folks concur. 

That she branded her a vreangler and he ear- 
notched her. 

Signed 

INSIDE STRAIGHT 





To Pascal Covici 


Sag Harbor 
[February 1956] 
Wednesday 

Dear Pat: 

I guess you are going to get bombed with notes from out 
here. I imagine the reason is that a kind of peace is settling 
over me. Seems to me that I have in the past few years been 
so nibbled and pushed by light minds and troubled by tiny 
things that I have been constantly off balance. Large things 
I can stand up to. 1 think most people can — I believe that men 
are destroyed by little things — so little that they can’t be got 
at or even identified — the nibbling of ducks. A large demand 
may stimulate — a thousand small ones only confuse and 
erode. 

Out here I get the old sense of peace and wholeness. The 
phone rings seldom. It is clear and very cold but the house is 
warm. Elaine is ecstatically happy out here. She cooks and 
sews and generally enjoys herself. You can’t imagine the 
change in disposition and approach in both of us. 

And it seems to be getting into my work. I approach the 
table every morning with a sense of joy. 

The yellow pages are beginning to be populated both with 
people and with ideas. This book with its new approach is 
not going to be long. It is only a practice book because in the 
back of my mind there is arising a structure like those great 
cumulus clouds you see over high mountains. 

I can feel this rising and preparing the way weather pre- 
pares — a long time in the future and far away — a pressure 
area that breaks up in Greenland and will weeks later influ- 
ence a rain storm in Manhattan. 

Technique should grow out of theme — not dictate it. I think 
I told you that I want to leave the past and the nostalgic. It 
is the disease of modem writing. In the work I am doing, the 
past is used only in so far as it affects the present. Anyway 
it is a very pleasant thing .to be doing. I want to get maybe 
fifty or a hundred pages done before you see it — otherwise 



my method will not be apparent. 

Meanwhile if you should see a second hand big Oxford 12 
vol.’s — I would like to have it for out here. I know no book I 
use more — ^nor value more. I hate to be away from it. 

Another request. Does Viking still subscribe to that service 
which answers questions — you know the one which will do 
any kind of research? I want to ask it a question. Maybe you 
will do it for me. I want to know how soy sauce is made. 1 
know it is fermented from the soy bean but I want to know 
the exact method — step by step and like a recipe so that from 
the directions it could be made. I promised this to some peo- 
ple in Dominica. I’m always giving you odd requests. 

Well all of this is keeping me from my book. But it is fun 
and you see? I have time. Isn’t that wonderful? No gnawing 
that I should be doing something else. For six hours every 
day I have nothing to do but think and write. May it go on for 
a long time. I seem to be reborn. 

See you Monday at 12 — ^noon. 

love 

John 


Peter Benchley, son of Steinbeck’s friend Nathaniel 
Benchley, wrote from Exeter asking for a contribu- 
tion to a special issue of the school newspaper. 
Steinbeck replied: 

“Here are some lines. You’re welcome to them if you 
want them. In a first draft I usually put in lots of 
generalities and in rewriting hunt them down and 
kill them.” 



To Peter Benchley 


[Sag Harbor] 
[1956] 

A man who writes a story is forced to put into it the best of 
his knowledge and the best of his feeling. The discipline of 
the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty. A 
writer lives in awe of words for they can be cruel or kind, and 
they can change their meanings right in front of you. They 
pick up flavors and odors like butter in a refrigerator. Of 
course there are dishonest writers who go on for a little 
while, but not for long — not for long. 

A writer out of loneliness is trying to communicate like a 
distant star sending signals. He isn’t telling or teaching or 
ordering. Rather he seeks to establish a relationship of 
meaning, of feeling, of observing. We are lonesome animals. 
We spend all life trying to be less lonesome. One of our an- 
cient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say — 
and to feel — 

“Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. 
You’re not as alone as you thought.” 

It is so hard to be clear. Only a fool is wilfully obscure. 

Of course a writer rearranges life, shortens time intervals, 
sharpens events, and devises beginnings, middles and ends 
and this is arbitrary because there are no beginnings nor any 
ends. We do have curtains — in a day, morning, noon and 
night, in a man’s birth, growth and death. These are curtain 
rise and curtain fall, but the story goes on and nothing 
finishes. 

To finish is sadness to a writer — a little death. He puts the 
last word down and it is done. But it isn’t really done. The 
story goes on and leaves the writer behind, for no story is ever 
done. 

[unsigned] 


523 




To Webster F. Street 


Sag Harbor 
March 20 [1956] 
Tuesday 

Dear Toby: 

We’ve been out here on the end of Long Island during this 
storm which you may have read about. It was beautiful and 
violent — 18 inches of snow and high drifted by the wind. 

Two weeks ago, Jimmy Costello [Editor of the Monterey 
Herald] called me and told me Ritch [Lovejoy] had been ope- 
rated on for a brain tumor and had very little chance to live 
and if he did live had no chance of regaining his mind. I 
wrote to Tal but of course have had no answer. We are get- 
ting to the age when the obit pages have a great deal of news. 
And this has been a bad year in the loss of friends. About 
seven in the last few months. Two days ago Fred Allen. A 
wonderful man and one of the true humorists I have ever 
known. He was Catbird’s godfather and took it very seriously. 
I guess it is a symptom of our ages. But it seems to me a lot 
of what I think of as the young ones of my friends have 
toppled over — like John Hodiak and Lemuel Ayers. In some 
cases, one feels a little guilty for being alive. But that is silly 
too. 

I’ve finally got my life in shape to go to the National Con- 
ventions. I have about 12 papers I will file for. And I intend 
to have fun with this writing. I am going out with the attitude 
of a Curse on Both Your Houses and I will do no punditry so 
Walter Lippmann need not shudder in his elevated position. 
Also I am going to the Kentucky Derby this year and I’ve 
never seen it. The editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal 
has invited us. 

I started out gaily on my novel and then, without warning 
an idea happened that so charmed me that I couldn’t shake 
it out. It seemed easier to write it than to lose it. It is the 
wrong length, the wrong subject and everything else is 
wrong with it except that it is fun and I could not resist 
writing it [ The Short Reign of Pippin IV]. I must say I do have 

524 



fun with my profession, if that’s what it is. I get real cranky 
when too many things interfere with it. 

I guess I’d better get out and shovel some snow now. Maybe 
I can get into town tomorrow. 

All the best 
John 


Mark Ethridge, the publisher of the Courier-Journal 
of Louisville, Kentucky, and Steinbeck had become 
acquainted on a trans- Atlantic crossing, and in the 
correspondence that followed, “Steinbeck confessed 
to an ambition to cover the conventions.” He was 
hired by the Courier-Journal which then offered his 
dispatches to its syndicate. About thirty-four news- 
papers accepted, from the Arkansas Gazette to the 
Washington Post, and, as Steinbeck wrote Ethridge 
and James S. Pope, Editor-in-Chief of the Courier- 
Journal: 

“I am composing a letter to the papers which have 
done me the honor of accepting my highly specula- 
tive copy. When it is finished I will send it to you and 
hope that you will send it out to them.” 


To the Syndicated Newspaper Editors 


Sag Harbor 
April 1956 

Thank you for accepting my convention copy sight unseen, 
but I think I owe you an explanation and an out. I have never 
been to a National Convention. That is my main reason for 
wanting to go. 

When I first suggested that I go conventioning I was told 
that I had no training as a political reporter. This was true 

525 




To Webster F. Street 


Sag Harbor 
March 20 [1956] 
Tuesday 

Dear Toby: 

We’ve been out here on the end of Long Island during this 
storm which you may have read about. It was beautiful and 
violent — ^18 inches of snow and high drifted by the wind. 

Two weeks ago, Jimmy Costello [Editor of the Monterey 
Herald] called me and told me Ritch [Lovejoy] had been ope- 
rated on for a brain tumor and had very little chance to live 
and if he did live had no chance of regaining his mind. I 
wrote to Tal but of course have had no answer. We are get- 
ting to the age when the obit pages have a great deal of news. 
And this has been a bad year in the loss of friends. About 
seven in the last few months. Two days ago Fred Allen. A 
wonderful man and one of the true humorists I have ever 
known. He was Catbird’s godfather and took it very seriously. 
I guess it is a symptom of our ages. But it seems to me a lot 
of what I think of as the young ones of my friends have 
toppled over — ^like John Hodiak and Lemuel Ayers. In some 
cases, one feels a little guilty for being alive. But that is silly 
too. 

I’ve finally got my life in shape to go to the National Con- 
ventions. I have about 12 papers I will file for. And I intend 
to have fun with this writing. I am going out with the attitude 
of a Curse on Both Your Houses and I will do no punditry so 
Walter Lippmann need not shudder in his elevated position. 
Also I am going to the Kentucky Derby this year and I’ve 
never seen it. The editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal 
has invited us. 

I started out gaily on my novel and then, without warning 
an idea happened that so charmed me that I couldn’t shake 
it out. It seemed easier to write it than to lose it. It is the 
wrong length, the wrong subject and everything else is 
wrong with it except that it is fun and I could not resist 
writing it [ The Short Reign of Pippin IV]. I must say I do have 

524 



fun with my profession, if that’s what it is. I get real cranky 
when too many things interfere with it. 

I guess I’d better get out and shovel some snow now. Maybe 
I can get into town tomorrow. 

All the best 
John 


Mark Ethridge, the publisher of the Courier-Journal 
of Louisville, Kentucky, and Steinbeck had become 
acquainted on a trans-Atlantic crossing, and in the 
correspondence that followed, “Steinbeck confessed 
to an ambition to cover the conventions.” He was 
hired by the Courier-Journal which then offered his 
dispatches to its syndicate. About thirty-four news- 
papers accepted, from the Arkansas Gazette to the 
Washington Post, and, as Steinbeck wrote Ethridge 
and James S. Pope, Editor-in-Chief of the Courier- 
Journal: 

“I am composing a letter to the papers which have 
done me the honor of accepting my highly specula- 
tive copy. When it is finished I will send it to you and 
hope that you will send it out to them.” 


To the Syndicated Newspaper Editors 


Sag Harbor 
April 1956 

Thank you for accepting my convention copy sight unseen, 
but I think I owe you an explanation and an out. I have never 
been to a National Convention. That is my main reason for 
wanting to go. 

When I first suggested that I go conventioning I was told 
that I had no training as a political reporter. This was true 


525 



and I began to study the techniques of my prospective col- 
leagues who were so trained. I was particularly interested in 
the analysis of one paragraph of a Presidential news confer- 
ence by four politically trained reporters. Each one exported 
it differently. Walter Lippmann, the Alsops and David Law- 
rence have nothing to fear from me. 

I have no sources — dependable or otherwise. If I should 
make a prediction, it will probably be assembled out of infor- 
mation from the wife of the alternate delegate from San Jose, 
California, plus whispers from the bell-hop who has just 
delivered a bucket of ice to “usually dependable sources.” 

A new political phrase is “running scared.” This is pre- 
sumed to be good because it means the candidate is running 
hard. Well, I’m writing scared. A good writer always writes 
scared. 

I have promised to give you printable copy. I think I can, 
but if this boast should turn out to be so much grass roots, I 
don’t think you should take the rap. I shall write what I see 
and hear and what I find amusing or illuminating. If you do 
not find it so, all bets are off. If on the other hand I succeed 
in interesting you and your subscribers, I shall insist, in addi- 
tion to the simple money agreed on, that I be given honorary 
police, military, social, civic and tree planting honors. 

Yours very truly, 
John Steinbeck 


Steinbeck stated his view of journalism in a letter to 
John P. McKnight, of the United States Information 
Service in Rome: 

“What can I say about journalism? It has the great- 
est virtue and the greatest evil. It is the first thing the 
dictator controls. It is the mother of literature and 
the perpetrator of crap. In many cases it is the only 
history we have and yet it is the tool of the worst 
men. But over a long period of time and because it 
is the product of so many men, it is perhaps the 
purest thing we have. Honesty has a way of creeping 
in even when it was not intended.” 

526 



Pascal Covici, Jr., at Harvard, wanted to do some 
critical writing and had sent Steinbeck some sam- 
ples of his work. 


To Pascal Covici, Jr. 


New York 
[April 13, 1956] 
Friday 

Dear Pascal: 

We’re running to Washington this morning. Haven’t been 
there since the war. I do hope they have cleared the rubble. 

I had your letter yesterday and that is exactly what I mean. 
But say it as roughly as you have in the letter. Make your 
point and make it angrily. I think of a number of pieces 
which should be done but that I as a novelist can’t or should 
not do. One would be on the ridiculous preoccupation of my 
great contemporaries, and I mean Faulkner and Heming- 
way, with their own immortality. It is almost as though they 
were fighting for billing on a tombstone. 

Another thing I could not write and you can is about the 
Nobel Prize. I should be scared to death to receive it, I don’t 
care how coveted it is. But I can’t say that because I have not 
received it. But it has seemed to me that the receivers never 
do a good nor courageous piece of work afterwards. It kind 
of retires them. I don’t know whether this is because their 
work was over anyway or because they try to live up to the 
prize and lose their daring or what. But it would be a tough 
hazard to overcome and most of them don’t. Maybe it makes 
them respectable and a writer can’t dare to be respectable. 
Anyway it might be a very interesting little essay. The same 
thing goes for any kind of honorary degrees and decorations. 
A man’s writing becomes less good with the numbers of his 
honors. It might be that fear in me that has made me refuse 
those L.L.D.’s that are constantly being put out by colleges. It 
may also be the reason why I have never been near the 
Academy even though I was elected to it. It may also be the 


5^7 



reason I gave my Pulitzer Prize money away. I think you 
might well make a good piece of it. 

It is usual that the moment you write for publication — I 
mean one of course — one stifPens in exactly the same way 
one does when one is being photographed. The simplest way 
to overcome this is to write it to someone, like me. Write it 
as a letter aimed at one person. This removes the vague ter- 
ror of addressing the large and faceless audience and it also, 
you will find, will give a sense of freedom and a lack of 
self-consciousness. 

Consider also writing some criticisms of critics. The few 
pieces I have written against critics have been gobbled up. 
And it is not considered sporting for a novelist to attack his 
critics. But it would be perfectly valid for you to do it. 

I am in a rush but I did want to get this off because your 
letter was very good. 

Love to you all 
jn 


James Pope had mentioned that he had to write a 
commencement address for delivery at Emory Uni- 
versity. Alone one evening in Sag Harbor, Steinbeck 
amused himself by dashing off a letter to Pope and 
a commencement address for him to deliver. 


To James S. Pope 


Sag Harbor 
May i6, 1956 

Dear Jim: 

The Lillymaid has gone to Astolat for a couple of days to 
do for her daughter what her daughter had better pretty soon 
learn to do for herself or this marriage isn’t for eternity [Wav- 
528 



erly Scott’s forthcoming marriage to Francis M. Skinner]. 
Also she has a yen to get her hair washed. Ain’t she a doll? 
I like that dame. But being left alone, this mouse got to play- 
ing and wrote twenty-five pages of dialogue today. It was 
raining anyway. 

A letter from Alicia [Alicia Patterson, publisher of News- 
day, wife of Harry Guggenheim] today enclosed an interview 
with Bill Faulkner which turns my stomach. When those old 
writing boys get to talking about The Artist, meaning them- 
selves, I want to leave the profession. I don’t know whether 
the Nobel Prize does it or not, but if it does, thank God I have 
not been so honored. They really get to living up to them- 
selves, wrapped and shellacked. Apparently they can’t have 
any human intercourse again. Bill said he only read Homer 
and Cervantes, never his contemporaries, and then, by God, 
in answer to the next question he stole a paragraph from an 
article I wrote for the Saturday Review eight months ago. 
Hell, he’s better than Homer. Homer couldn’t either read or 
write and the old son of a gun was blind. And Cervantes was 
broke, a thing Bill never let happen to him while he could go 
to Hollywood and turn out the Egyptian, the artist — my ass! 
Sure he’s a good writer but he’s turning into a god damned 
phoney. I guess that got rid of my nastiness and Elaine 
wouldn’t approve of my saying it. That will teach her not to 
go away. 

It’s late but I’m not sleepy so I might as well write you a 
commencement speech, what the hell! Of course if I had to 
do it myself I’d cut my throat. 

I see you sitting in the front row, robed in academic splen- 
dor. It is pretty hot and you are sweating under that cape. You 
sat on your back tassel and pulled it off and shoved it in your 
pocket and that got your robe caught in your pocket and you 
can’t get it out so you yank at it and out come your keys and 
a handful of small change. You keep thinking the tassel of 
your mortarboard is a fiy and you swat at it every time it 
swings in front of your eyes. You wish you hadn’t worn nylon 
drawers. You itch. 

Then you hear the President announce. 

“And now, I have the honor to present our honored guest, 
William D. Pope, who has consented to address you.” 

As you stand up you try to work the nylon drawers out of 
your crevice by dragging against the little hard chair but it 
sticks. So you say to yourself, “The hell with it,” and you try 

529 



to get your notes out of your pocket under all the harness you 
are wearing and you realize that if you did manage to dig 
them out, you would have to throw your skirts over your 
head. So what do you do? You advance to the front of the 
stage and deliver the address i am about to write for you. 

COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS BY JAMES S. BISHOP 

“President Onassis,” you begin. “Honorable Regents, mem- 
bers of the Faculty, without whose loving care this day could 
not happen (laughter), ladies and gentlemen:” 

(Now draw a big deep breath because it is the last one you 
are going to get as you become caught up in the fire and 
thunder of your address. And you don’t really have to go to 
the bathroom. It is just your imagination.) 

“I suppose you think I am going to give you one of those 
‘You are going out into the world’ speeches. (Laughter and 
cries of ‘Hear, Hear.’) 

“Well, you are perfectly right. You are going out into the 
world and it is a mess, a frightened, neurotic, gibbering mess. 
And there isn’t anyone out there to help you because all the 
people who are already out there are in a worse state than 
you are, because they have been there longer and a good 
number of them have given up. 

“Yes, my young friends, you are going to take your bright 
and shining faces into a jungle, but a jungle where all the 
animals are insane. You are going from delinquency to 
desuetude without even an interlude of healthy vice. You 
haven’t the strength for vice. That takes energy, and all the 
energy of this time is needed for fear. That takes energy too. 
And what energy is left over is needed for running down the 
rabbit holes of hatred, to avoid thought. The rich hate the 
poor and taxes. The young hate the draft. The Democrats 
hate the Republicans and everybody hates the Russians. 
Children are shooting their parents and parents are drown- 
ing their children when they think they can get away with 
it. No one can plan one day ahead because all certainties are 
gone. War is now generally admitted to be not only unwin- 
nable but actually suicidal and so we think of war and plan 
for war, and design war and drain our nations of every extra 
penny of treasure to make the weapons which we admit will 
destroy us. Generals argue with Secretaries about how much 
they've got and how much we've got to fight the war that is 
admitted will be the end of all of us. 


530 



“And meanwhile there is no money for the dams and the 
schools and the highways and the housing and the streets for 
our clotted and festering traffic. That’s what you are going 
out to. Going out? Hell you’ve been in it for years. And you 
have to scrape the bottom to avoid thinking. Some of us hate 
niggers and some of us hate the people who hate niggers and 
it is all the same thing, anything to keep from thinking. Make 
money! Spend all of your time trying to avoid taxes, taxes for 
the 60,000,000,000 dollars for the weapons for the war that is 
unthinkable. 

“Let’s face it. We are using this war and this rumor of war 
to avoid thought. But if you work very hard and are lucky and 
have a good tax-man, then when you are fifty, if your heart 
permits, you and your sagging wife can make a tired and 
bored but first-class trip to Europe to stare at the works of 
dead people who were not afraid. But you won’t see it. You’ll 
be too anxious to get home to your worrying. You’ll want to 
get your blown prostate home in time for your thrombosis. 
The only exciting thing you can look forward to is a heart 
attack. And while you have been in Athens on the Acropolis 
not seeing the Parthenon, you have missed two murders and 
the nasty divorce of two people you do not know and are not 
likely to, but you hate to miss it. 

“These are your lives, my darlings, if you avoid cancer, 
plane crashes and automobile accidents. Your lives! Love? 
A nervous ejaculation while drunk. Romance? An attempt 
to be mentioned in a column for having accompanied the 
Carrot Queen to a slaughter house. Fun? Electric canes at 
a convention. Art? A deep seated wish to crash the Book- 
of-the-Month-Club. Sport? A television set and a bottle of 
the proper beer. Ambition? A new automobile every year. 
Work? A slot in a corporate chain of command. Religion? 
A private verbal contract with a Deity you don’t believe in 
and a public front pew in your superior’s church. Chil- 
dren? Maybe a psychiatrist can keep them out of the de- 
tention home. 

“Am I boring you, you nervous sons of bitches? Am I keep- 
ing you from your mouldy pleasures? And you, President 
Booker T. Talmadge, are you restless to get to your rare roast 
beef? Regents, are you lusting for the urinal? And you. 
Professors — are you cooking up some academic skullduggery 
for the Faculty Club? 

“Now, you say hopelessly, he is going to give us his science 


531 



lecture. And you are right again, but it is the last time you 
will be right. 

“Your professors will squabble about how many milleni- 
ums ago it was when a man picked up fire and it burned him, 
and he picked it up again and it burned a forest and he 
brought it home and it burned his shelter and he threw it on 
a pile of bones and learned to cook and he found a piece of 
shining metal under a bonfire and wore it for a while and 
then hammered it to a cutting edge. It took him hundreds of 
thousands of years to get used to fire. The very concept of fire 
so frightened him that he refused to think about it. He called 
it a god or the property of a god, and gradually over hundreds 
of thousands of years he reluctantly evolved a set of rules and 
techniques and mores for thinking about fire. Then he loved 
it finally and it was first lord of the hearth, the center of his 
being, the symbol of his ease and safety. Many more people 
got warm than got burned and so he gradually inspected this 
extension of himself, this power and found what made it do 
the thing s it does. But that was the end of the process, not the 
beginning. And meanwhile there must have been a good 
number of men who seeing a forest burning shrieked out 
that this devil would destroy the world. 

“Do you know what is wrong with you? It isn’t niggers or 
Democrats or Russians. The Quantum Theory tumbled your 
convictions about order, so you refused to think about it. The 
Expanding Universe blasted your homocentric galaxy, and 
then the fissionable atom ripped the last of your fire-minded 
world to ribbons. For the first time you have unlimited power 
and an unlimited future, the great drama of magic and al- 
chemy. And are you glad? No, you go groveling to analysts to 
find out what is the matter with you. You will not inspect the 
new world that is upon you. 

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could look at your world 
and say, and hear yourself — ‘This was once true but it is no 
longer true. We must make new rules about this and this. We 
must abandon our dear war, which once had a purpose, and 
our hates which once served us.’ 

“You won’t do it. It will have to slip up on you in the course 
of the generations. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could 
greet the most wonderful time in the history of our world 
with wonder rather than with despair?” 

Now you bow coldly and try to get out alive. The audience 
is silent and as you walk up the aisle working at your suffer- 


532 



ing crotch you hear whispered comments. “The old fart. Who 
does he think he is?” “Nigger lover.” “Did you hear him say 
those Communists weren’t dangerous? He must be one.” 


Say — I like that! I may make that speech myself — from a 
helicopter. But you may borrow it if you like. And invite me 
to hear you deliver it. I’ll cover your exit and bring a few of 
the boys. 

Oh, Elaine will be so mad at me! 

yours 

John 

I told you I was a spastic writer— 


To Graham Watson 


Sag Harbor 
July 2, 1956 

Dear Graham: 

Your good letter coincides with a genuine homesickness 
for London. Not that it is going to do any good for quite a long 
time. Our daughter is getting married on July fourteenth, 
and this astonishing occasion is being produced only a little 
less splendidly than Billy Rose’s Aquacade. You can’t imag- 
ine how many clothes you have to put on a girl when the sole 
purpose is to get them off. 

Meanwhile I have been trying to finish a little book which 
could be amusing and could get me guillotined also, but the 
interruptions of more important, i.e. wedding things have 
made it very difiicult. Now my kids have gone to camp and 
Elaine is running back and forth to New York to stage man- 
age the pageant. Women are very touchy about this. I smiled 
when they were talking veil and caught hell, and I was so 
stupid as to suggest that they bring back the kerchief and 
sheep’s blood symbol, but they found that bestial. I wish I had 
the sense to shut up. If only the intensity of the wedding 
could guarantee that she would stay married, it would be 


533 



more than worth it. Do I sound bitter? Well I am a little but 
I am also philosophic. 


To James Pope, at the same time: 

“Where do you seat the grandparents of the bride 
when the bride’s father has gone to England and the 
grandparents hate the stepfather for having stolen 
the bride’s father’s wife? If I can get by this wedding 
I think the conventions will be a breeze. 

so long . . . 

Where the hell would you put the chrysanthemums 
on the St. Regis Roof if the bride’s uncle-in-law owns 
the King Ranch?” 

In the spring we shall go back to Europe. I am going to take 
Elaine to follow the spring up Scandinavia. I want her to be 
perhaps in Dalerna for midsummer where they dance and 
play the violins and do the summerpoles and the wreathes 
and drink one hell of a lot of schnapps. I find that after six 
or seven I can sing in old Norsk. At least it sounds like old 
Norsk. But Elaine says that everything I say after even four 
akvavits sounds like old Norsk. 

We want to see you. Consider very carefully meeting us in 
Florence. We know lots of people there and places where you 
can eat little birds and we’ll take you to Castle Broglio where 
the Chianti is golden for a change and twice as strong. 
Wouldn’t that be fine? 


yours 

John 


534 


To James S. Pope 


[Sag Harbor] 
[July 1956] 

Dear Jim: 

If I feel like wringer-juice, what do you think Elaine is 
like? That’s the tiredest white girl I ever saw. I’ve put her on 
a diet of bed and vitamins. The wedding was very pretty, the 
bride truly radiant, the groom handsome and properly 
frightened, the reception a gala of the youth and gallantry 
and beauty of Texas and Manhattan. I think I handled my- 
self with the proper mixture of gruffness and tears — a regu- 
lar Lionel Barrymore. Seemed to me that Elaine was prettier 
than the bride. Good show from beginning to end and now 
over, and E. and I alone — areally alone for the first time in our 
lives. I feel new-married myself and when she gets rested up 
I’m going to make the Lily Maid feel the same way. Chicago 
will be a kind of wedding trip for us. 

Meanwhile, it is so lovely out here with sun and breeze and 
water that the flowers in the garden are yawping like coon 
hounds on a moonlight night. What joy! The deadline on my 
little book which I had hoped to finish before Chicago, I 
probably won’t make. It was my own deadline anyway — ^but 
that is the toughest kind. I guess I am telling you all of this 
out of a kind of effusion. 

Meanwhile — ^the conventions. I’m going to keep the title 
“O’ Both Your Houses.” I like it and it kind of sets the tone. 

I guess that’s all. I want to thank you for the lovely letter 
you wrote Elaine. It bloomed her all up and made her happy. 
Now we have three weeks to rest and kind of get acquainted 
and that’s the very best of all. And I won’t be quite so hysteri- 
cal from now on. 

Best to all of you there. 

John 


535 



On receipt of a photograph of himself to be used for 
the syndicated stories from Chicago: 


To James S. Pope 


[Sag Harbor] 
[July 1956] 

Dear Jim: 

I guess I never saw a more villainous face. The expression 
seems to be one of planned lechery. It has the open honesty 
of the weasel and the trustworthiness of the mink. The 
lumps and erosion are almost geologic as a record of a virtu- 
ous and uneventful life. In fact why anyone would want it 
except for a dart game or a rogues’ gallery I don’t know. 

Working furiously on my French History [ The Short Reign 
of Pippin IV\ and there’s just a teensy-weensy chance I may 
finish it before Chicago. To this devout end address your 
prayers, please! 

Yours 

John 


To James S. Pope and Mark Ethridge 


San Francisco 
August 23, 1956 

Dear Jim and Mark: 

I have just finished my last copy which will be filed tomor- 
row. I have had fun, some of which I hope communicated. 
And I’m very tired because regardless of the irresponsibility 
of the copy, I have missed very little and have stood still for 
every nuance of these fantastic rituals of complexity. I’m 

536 



pretty sure I shall not want to see another one. Like a fighting 
bull once fought I know too much and my innocence is being 
swept up from the floor of the Cow Palace along with the 
posters. 

I’ve made a lot of new friends and renewed old friendships 
with press people. They are not resentful of me once they 
know I am not competing with them. On the contrary they 
have been kind and helpful and amused at this dog walking 
on its hind legs. I’ve been scared in the matter of copy and 
hopeful that it might be better than most has turned out. But 
I guess that’s the story of a writer’s life. And it was the very 
best I could do. 

Tomorrow we’re going down to Monterey for a few days to 
see my sisters. 

Finally — thanks for everything. 

Yours, 

John 


To Pascal Covici 


[Sag Harbor] 
[1956] 

Dear Pat: 

I suppose you will be asked why I wrote The Short Reign 
of Pippin IV. Maybe you will ask it yourself. As an answer I 
recall a beautiful lady of my acquaintance who was asked by 
her two young daughters where babies came from. Very pa- 
tiently she explained the process to them and at the end 
asked — 

“Now — do you understand?” 

After a whispered conference, the older girl reported — 

“We understand what you do, but why do you do it?” 

My friend thought for a moment and then retired into the 
simple truth — “Because it’s fun,” she said. 

And that’s the reason for this book. Because it’s fun. 

Anyone who can go along with it in a spirit of play may 
have some of the pleasure I had in writing it. On the other 


537 



hand, the searchers after secret meanings, the dour priest- 
hood of obscurantist criticism and the devout traffic cops of 
literature will neither like nor approve of The Short Reign. 

But anyone who in our humorless times has concealed a 
sense of play, can, I believe, get an illegal chuckle from this 
book. In our scowling era, laughter may well be the only 
counter-revolutionary weapon. 

I can imagine that future critics, if any survive, may view 
our ridiculous antics with hilarious laughter. And to that 
desirable end. The Short Reign of Pippin IV is dedicated. 

Yours conspiratorially 
John 


Dennis Murphy, the writer-son of Steinbeck’s old 
school friend, John Murphy of Salinas, was in the 
middle of his first book, The Sergeant, and had ap- 
parently written Steinbeck about certain difficulties. 


To Dennis Murphy 


[Sag Harbor] 
September 21, 1956 

Dear Dennis: 

I’m sorry you had an argument with your father. But from 
where I sit, and I sit a little bit along the road you are travel- 
ling, you have only one thing in the world to do. You must 
finish this book and then you must finish another. If any- 
thing at all, saving your own death, stops you, except momen- 
tarily, then you are not a writer anyway and there is nothing 
to discuss. I do not mean that you should not bitch and 
complain and fight and scrabble but the one important 
thing for you is to get your work done. If anyone gets hurt 

538 



in the process, you cannot be blamed. 

But don’t think for a moment that you will ever be forgiven 
for being what they call “different.” You won’t! I still have 
not been forgiven. Only when I am delivered in a pine box 
will I be considered “safe.” After I had written the Grapes of 
Wrath and it had been to a large extent read and sometimes 
burned, the librarians at Salinas Public Library, who had 
known my folks— remarked that it was lucky my parents 
were dead so that they did not have to suffer this shame. I tell 
you this so you may know what to expect. 

Now get to work — 

Yours 

J.S. 


David Heyler, Jr., was beginning a collection of 
Steinbeckiana. 


To Mr. and Mrs. David Heyler, Jr. 


New York 
November 19, 1956 

Dear Dave and Joan: 

Today I packed up a bunch of junk and put it in a box and 
as soon as some one can get over to the post office it will go 
off to you, oddities and several manuscripts that have never 
been printed. 

Hope you are all well and happy. We are studying Italian, 
getting nowhere but it is kind of fun and a kind of discipline 
which I am not used to these many years. A professor comes 
twice a week and Elaine and I find ourselves fighting to re- 
cite when we know the answer and pretending to be busy 
when we don’t. I guess you don’t grow up at all. And all the 


539 



Italian we will learn you can put in you know what. I am 
trying to get sounds by trying to memorize some of the son- 
nets of Petrarca. I find that poetry gives you a much better 
sense of the flow of words than the inkwell of Catarina Rossi, 
whom I am beginning to detest. We are studying because 
about the first of April we are going to Florence for a couple 
of months and I want to know a few words so that as in 
French I can ask a question even if I can’t understand what 
the answer is. 

I finished my little book. Now I am engaged in another 
thing and I must ask you not to speak about it for reasons that 
will be obvious. I’ve thrown out the novel I was going to write 
because it did not go well and because it arose from a wrong 
premise. And because I must go on working because I get 
unhappy when I am not working, I am taking on something 
I have always wanted to do. That is the reduction of Thomas 
Malory’s Morte d’ Arthur to simple readable prose without 
adding or taking away anything, simply to put it into modern 
spelling and to translate the obsolete words to modern ones 
and to straighten out some of the more involved sentences. 
There has not been an edition of this since 1893, the Dent 
edition of Caxton, except for a cut version called the Boy’s 
King Arthur in about 1900 which was the one I cut my teeth 
on. And there is no rendering of it into modern English. In 
1934 the Winchester ms of Malory was discovered and is now 
available in Oxford University Press, three volumes. And the 
Winchester is much more interesting and indicates some 
things which Caxton edited out. 

It was the very first book I knew and I have done con- 
siderable research over the years as my work will show. I 
loved the old forms but most people are put off by the 
spellings and obsolescences and the result is that all they 
have to go on is Prince Valiant and the movie versions. 
This is odd because I don’t know any book save only the 
Bible and perhaps Shakespeare which has had more 
effect on our morals, our ethics and our mores than t-bis 
same Malory. So that is what I am up to and I should be 
able to have it pretty well in hand before we go to Italy. 
However, if it is not completely done by then I will put it 
aside because I would want it to be beautifully done or 
not to do it at all. I want to make it as simple as possible 
but not to leave out anything and not to sweeten nor to 
sentimentalize it. 


540 



Anyway, I’ll get the box off to you as soon as I can. Love to 
all there, 


love 

John 


To Elizabeth Otis 


New York 
November 19, 1956 
Monday 

Dear Elizabeth: 

I’ve finished now the Short Reign. Pat is coming for it to- 
day. There’s a great unease about it at Viking, but there’s an 
unease all over and maybe one thing transmits to another. 
Meanwhile, I have been dipping into the Malory. And with 
delight. As long as I don’t know what is going on in the world, 
I would like to have a try with this. 

Now as to method. I am in some wonder about this. When 
I first read it, I must have been already enamored of words 
because the old and obsolete words delighted me. However, 
I wonder whether children now would be so attracted. They 
are more trained by picture than by sound. I’m going to make 
a trial run — not removing all of the old forms, nor all the 
Malory sentence structure, but substituting known simple 
words and reversing sentences which even now are puzzling. 

When I have some of it done, I shall with an opening essay 
tell of my own interest in the cycle, when it started and 
where it went — into scholarship and out again on the other 
side. 

Now as for title — I should perhaps like to call the book The 
Acts of King Arthur. Of course I would explain this in the 
introduction — ^the Book is much more Acts than Morte. 

Do you have a Caxton edition? I should like you — ^as you 
read my version — ^to compare it, so that recommendations 
can be made. 

Next, what would you think of Chase as a kind of Manag- 
ing Editor? [Chase Horton, owner of the Washington Square 


541 



Bookshop and friend of Elizabeth Otis.] His knowledge and 
interest seem to be great and he could be of help to me when 
I come a cropper. It would be good to have someone to consult 
with. And he might have an opening essay to precede mine. 
Let me know about this. 

Let us keep this project to ourselves until I am well along. 
I don’t want Pat or Viking nudging me. 

There it is anyway and I find I am anxious to get into it. It 
could be a peaceful thing in a torn world. 

Love 

John 


To Roland Dickey 

DIRECTOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO PRESS 


New York 
December 7, 1956 

Dear Mr. Dickey: 

I have read with very much interest the book, Steinbeck 
and His Critics, particularly since I have not seen most of the 
material before. 

It is always astonishing to read a critique of one’s work. In 
my own case, it didn’t come out that way but emerged little 
by little, staggering and struggling, each part alone and sepa- 
rated from the others. And then, after the fact — long after — 
a pattern is discernible, a clear and fairly consistent pattern, 
even in the failures. It gives me the pleased but uneasy feel- 
ing of reading my own epitaph. 

So many of the judgments and arguments in this book of 
opinions seem to me to be true. I only wonder why I didn’t 
think of them myself. I guess I was so lost in the books I 
couldn’t see the long structure. Of course, in this river of 
opinion there are special pleaders — ^men who were backing 
their ovm particular horses — ^but also there seem to me to be 
many accuracies. 

This book does make me aware of how long I have been at 

542 



it. Good God, I must have been writing for hundreds of years. 
But I must assure you that it fails to make me feel old or 
finished or fixed. Perhaps my new book falls into the pattern, 
and perhaps the two books in process will drift in the inevita- 
ble stream — but to me they are new and unique in the world 
and I am as scared and boastful and humble about them as 
I was a thousand years ago when I began the first one. And 
it is just as hard and I am just as excited as I was. The 
approach to a horizon makes the horizon leap away. And the 
more one learns about writing, the more unbelievably diffi- 
cult it becomes. I wish to God I knew as much about my craft, 
or whatever it is, as I did when I was 19 years old. But with 
every new attempt, frightening though it may be, is the won- 
der and the hope and the delight. As the angels said in Pe- 
trarca, “Che luce e questa e qual nova beltate?” 

Yours sincerely, 

John Steinbeck 


To Elizabeth Otis 


Sag Harbor 
January 3, 1957 
(I think it is Jan. 3, 
pretty sure in fact.) 

Dear Elizabeth; 

Just reading and reading and reading and it’s like hearing 
remembered music. The bay is nearly all frozen over with 
just a few patches of open water and as the tide rises and falls 
the crushing ice makes a strange singing sound. I’ve moved 
my card table to the front window with the telescope beside 
it so if anything goes on I can tompeep it. Two seagulls right 
now trying to walk on the ice and falling through every few 
steps and then looking around to see if anyone noticed. I have 
a feeling that seagulls hate to be laughed at. Well, who 
doesn’t, for that matter? 

Remarkable things in the books. Little meanings that peek 


543 



out for a moment, and a few scholars who make observations 
and then almost in fright withdraw or qualify what they 
have said. Somewhere there’s a piece missing in the jigsaw 
and it is a piece which ties the whole thing together. So many 
scholars have spent so much time trying to establish 
whether Arthur existed at all that they have lost track of the 
single truth that he exists over and over. 

It is very easy to see how Malory, steeped as he must have 
been in the church, could unconsciously pattern the brother- 
hood after the twelve apostles. That was what people under- 
stood. Twelve was the normal number for any group of fol- 
lowers of a man or a principle. The symbolism was 
inevitable. And whether the Grail was the cup from Golgo- 
tha or the Gaelic cauldron later used by Shakespeare doesn’t 
in the least matter since the principle of both was everlasting 
or rather ever-renewed life. All such things fall into place 
inevitably but it is the connective, the continuing line with 
the piece missing in the middle that fascinates me. 

Another beautiful thing is how the straggling sentences, 
the confused characters and events of the early parts smooth 
out as he goes along so that his sentences become more fluid 
and his dialogue gets a sting of truth and his characters 
become more human than symbolic even though he tries 
hard to keep the symbol, and this I am sure is because he was 
learning to write as he went along. He became a master and 
you can see it happening. And in any work I do on this thing 
I am not going to try to change that. I’ll go along with his 
growing perfection and who knows, I may learn myself. It’s 
a lovely job if I can only lose the sense of hurry that has been 
growing in me for so long. 

Last night when I could neither sleep nor channel my at- 
tention on my reading, my nerve ends got to whipping like 
the whitecaps on the bay and darkness seemed to come close 
and then to recede and then come close again. This was not 
only nonsense but fatuous nonsense. And it occurred to me 
that what was good for squirrels and bears might be good for 
me so I went out to walk and the cold got through my skin and 
then through my meat and then right into the center of my 
bones, and do you know it worked? A soothing and a quieting 
it was. It was about six above zero and the deep freeze acted 
like an anaesthetic as of course I knew it must. When I was 
cold clear through I could come back and read again. I think 
these squirrels and bears have something. I don’t know 

544 



whether it was fortunate or unfortunate that I didn’t find a 
hollow log and crawl in for the winter. 

Charley is having a wonderful time trying to walk on the 
iee. He falls through at every step and looks puzzled every 
time. One day soon it will support him and then he’ll give 
those seagulls hell. 

That’s all for now. I’ll get back to my Legend and I’ll bet it 
turns out that it isn’t a Legend at all any more than any 
dream is. 

Love 

John 


To Chase Horton 


Sag Harbor 
January 12 , 1957 

Dear Chase: 

I come from a line of inventors. Several years ago in a 
Midlands, I think Birmingham, newspaper I read a bitter 
request from the local public librarian, asking the sub- 
scribers not to use bacon or kippers as book marks because 
the grease soaked through the paper. 

I have never used book marks no matter how pretty or 
ingenious they were. Therefore you may believe me when I 
say I was surprised to find I was using your very pretty cloth 
ones. I couldn’t figure why and so I watched myself and do 
you know why? I found that I was wiping my glasses with 
them. They aren’t very good for that but it was better than 
getting up and finding a kleenex. Hence my invention— a 
book mark made of cloth designed to wipe glasses, perhaps 
impregnated with one of those silicate compounds which 
coat the lens. These could be in bright colors, could have 
pretty designs, and perhaps an indication of their use such 
as: 


A DOGGE EERED BOOKE YS lYL BE SEYNE 
I KEPE HIR BOOKES AND GLASYS KLENE. 


545 



Such a book mark could also have printed on it advertising 
of publisher or book shop which would remind the reader 
where he got it. What do you think of this? Want to go part- 
ners in it? 

And by the way, if in your wandering you should see a 
stuffed owl — I want one. I need it for a birthday present this 
summer — almost any kind of owl, screech, barn, fence post, 
ground, hoot. 

Yours, 

John 


To Arthur Larson 

DIRECTOR OF THE UNITED STATES 
INFORMATION AGENCY 


[New York] 
January 12, 1957 

Dear Mr. Larson: 

The following notes arise out of a genuine concern about 
our communications with our neighbors. 

Recently the President asked William Faulkner, perhaps 
the dean of American writers, to form a committee to recom- 
mend techniques for what Mr. Eisenhower tellingly called 
“a People to People program.” 

It has been our misfortune to dangle our freedom in front 
of our neighbors and then to refuse them even the simplest 
hospitality. Our closed and suspicious borders have not reas- 
sured our friends and have given our enemies magnificent 
propaganda fuel. 

Our refusal of a passport to Paul Robeson, for example, 
was stupid. An intelligent move would have been to let him 
travel and to send Jackie Robinson with him. 

The second item grows out of our uneasiness that we are 
constantly re-converting our friends who do not need it, and 
ignoring our enemies who do. In this, of course, we are 
driven by our hysteria about security. 

I believe that commerce is not only the mother of civiliza- 
546 



tion, but the teacher of understanding and the god of peace. 
And I mean all kinds of commerce — ^movement of goods and 
movement of ideas. The first act of a dictator is to close the 
borders to travel, goods and ideas. It is always a matter of 
sadness, and of suspicion to me, when we close our borders 
to any of these. 

In 1936 , 1 went as a tourist to Russia and what were then 
called the Balkans. In 1947, with Robert Capa, I toured Russia 
and some of the satellites for the Herald-Tribune. We asked 
many people who had been kind to us what we could send 
them. The invariable answer was “books.” On returning, we 
sent books. They never arrived. We sent them again — and 
again they failed to arrive. 

Next — I have had a number of letters from East German 
students who crossed into West Germany, ostensibly to take 
part in Communist rallies. These letters asked for books, 
gave Berlin addresses to which they should be sent, and 
guaranteed wide distribution. One student said, “I can assure 
you that at least a thousand people will read each book you 
send.” Naturally, I sent the books — not only my own books, 
but many others. 

Now — My conclusion is that the book is revered. The book 
is somehow true, where propaganda is suspected. Denial of 
the right to read whatever they want to is one of the most 
bitterly resented of all of the Soviet’s tyrannies. 

You will remember the Army editions of books sent to 
troops during the last war. They were small, compact — de- 
signed to fit in the shirt pocket. They were distributed by the 
millions. Publishers and authors contributed their services. 
Where are those plates? Could they be reprinted? They could 
be moved over borders in various ways — by Underground, as 
the East German students suggested, by balloons as Radio 
Free Europe has flown pamphlets, and by the inevitable 
movements across borders, no matter how closed they are. A 
packet of books thrown over the barbwire fence and picked 
up by a border guard might be burned, but I swear it is more 
likely that the books would be hidden, treasured and dis- 
tributed. During the German occupation of Norway and 
Denmark, my own books were mimeographed on scraps of 
paper and distributed. 

Now — ^What kind of books? 

Any kind. Poetry, essays, novels, plays — these are the 
things desired and begged for. Pictures of how it is in Amer- 


547 



ica — good and bad. The moment it is all good, it is automati- 
cally propaganda and will be disbelieved. 

These are some of the conclusions of the best writers in our 
country, and they are offered out of a simple desire to help 
m your very difficult task. 

Yours very sincerely, 
John Steinbeck 


To Alexander Frere 

THEN DIRECTOR OF HEINEMANN, LTD., 
STEINBECK’S ENGUSH PUBLISHER 


New York 
January i8, 1957 

Dear Frere and Frau: 

Your letter arrived with its charming news that we can lay 
down our heads at the Dorchester. 

First, I and later we have been to Sag Harbor. I’ve been 
doing some concentrated reading — a lovely thing — and not 
done by me in recent years. To read and read in one direction 
night and day; to pull an area and a climate of thinking over 
one’s head like a space helmet — what a joy that is! No tele- 
phones, no neighbors, no decisions except great ones — that is 
a good way to live for a time. 

Working on the Malory is a thing of great joy to me, like 
coming home. I am having a wonderful time. The Morgan 
Library has opened its arms and its great manuscripts to 
me, and I can touch and feel, put a microscope on the vel- 
lum. I think I will write a small essay on what one finds 
on a monkish manuscript under a powerful glass. I am 
convinced that with practice I could tell when the copyist 
had a hangover. Every sharpening of the quill is apparent 
and since cleanliness was not a monkish virtue, the pages 
are rich — even racy — with fingerprints and smudges and 
evidences of pork pasty on fingers hastily wiped on nut- 
brown robes. It is fascinating and some of the scholars 
down there are a little puzzled and aghast at my own in- 

548 



spection with, a sixty-power glass, but they are fascinated 
too. I haven’t yet dared ask permission to take scrapings 
for analysis, hut maybe later when they find I am not a 
crank, they may permit it. 


Later he wrote: 

“The Morgan Library has a very fine nth century 
Launcelot in perfect condition. I was going over it 
one day and turned to the rubric of the first 
known owner dated mi, the rubric a squiggle of 
very thick ink. I put a glass on it and there 
imbedded deep in the ink was the finest crab 
louse, pfithira pulus, 1 ever saw. He was perfectly 
preserved even to his little claws. I knew I would 
find him sooner or later because people of that 
period were deeply troubled with lice and other 
little beasties — hence the plagues. 1 called the 
curator over and showed him my find and he let 
out a cry of sorrow. “I’ve looked at that rubric a 
thousand times,” he said. “Why couldn’t I have 
found him?” 


I am having the time of my life with the work, and al- 
though I have a fairly good background, I am learning much 
in supplemental reading. 

My love to your darling wife and whatever you can get for 
yourself. 

Yours, 

John 


To John Murphy 


[New York] 
February 21, 1957 

Dear John: 

After talking to Elizabeth Otis, one of the best judges in the 
country, who has seen the beginning of Dennis’ book [The 
Sergeant], I shudder to tell you what I have strongly sus- 


549 



pected — that you have a writer in the family. This is sad 
news, but I can’t think of a thing you can do about it. I can 
remember the horror which came over my parents when 
they became convinced that it was so with me — and properly 
so. What you have and they had to look forward to is life 
made intolerable by a mean, cantankerous, opinionated, 
moody, quarrelsome, unreasonable, nervous, flighty, irre- 
sponsible son. You will get no loyalty, little consideration and 
desperately little attention from him. In fact you will want 
to kill him. I’m sure my father and mother often must have 
considered poisoning me. There will be no ease for you or for 
him. He won’t even have the decency to be successful or if he 
is, he will pick at it as though it were failure for it is one of 
the traits of this profession that it always fails if the writer 
is any good. And Dennis is not only a writer but I am dread- 
fully afraid a very good one. 

I hasten to offer Marie and you my sympathy but I must 
also warn you that you are helpless. Your function as a father 
from now on will be to get him out of jail, to nurture him just 
short of starvation, to watch in despair while he seems to be 
irrational — and your reward for all this will be to be ignored 
at best and insulted and vilified at worst. Don’t expect to 
understand him, because he doesn’t understand himself. 
Don’t for God’s sake, judge him by ordinary rules of human 
virtue or vice or failings. Every man has his price but the 
price of a writer, a real one, is very hard to find and almost 
impossible to implement. My best advice to you is to stand 
aside, to roll with the punch and particularly to protect your 
belly. If you are contemplating killing him, you had better do 
it soon or it will be too late. I can see no peace for him and 
little for you. You can deny relationship. There are lots of 
Murphys. 

This is a strange phenomenon — No one understands it. 
In the Middle Ages they ascribed it to evil spirits or the 
devil and they may not have been far wrong. But there is 
a heavy penalty for excellence. I have tried to explain this 
to Dennis — and I think he knows it but knowing some 
things doesn’t make it easier. And out of all the mess 
sometimes comes great beauty — ^the only thing that sur- 
vives in our species. 

We’re on the move again. We go to Italy March 25 and to 
Japan in September. If I have any complaints with my life, 
one of them can surely not be that it is dull. 


550 



Again my condolences to you and Marie — ^but you’re stuck 
with it. 


Yours, 

John 


In the spring, on the first of three Arthurian 
“questes,” the Steinbecks and his sister Mary Dek- 
ker sailed for Italy, in search of material not avail- 
able elsewhere on Sir Thomas Malory. Steinbeck be- 
lieved Malory himself had gone to Italy at one point 
as a mercenary. Furthermore, as he wrote McIntosh 
and Otis, he wanted to go to the Florentine ar- 
chives — 

“since the economics of fifteenth century England 
were dominated by Florentine bankers.” 

At the same time, as he wrote James Pope and Mark 
Ethridge, for whom he was going to write a series of 
travel pieces: 

“I should like to be accredited to the Courier-Journal 
and to have a cable card. This is for my convenience 
and self-importance. I will report ship sinkings and 
keep the paper informed on the Guelph-Ghibelline 
matter. I promise not to send anything day rate short 
of the return of Christ to Eboli.” 

On arrival in Florence he wrote a happy letter to 
Elizabeth Otis: 

“We got in last evening in a state of collapse. Fare- 
well parties on the ship lasted three days and did us 
in. Our apartment looked like Forest Lawn with 
flowers from Florentine friends and we fell into the 
mood by going to bed and dying for twelve hours. 
Yesterday in Naples I told the press that for the first 
time in two years Naples had a ruin second only to 
Pompeii, namely me. This remark so delighted 
them that they forgot to ask me which Italian writ- 
ers I liked best.” 

After three weeks in Florence they went to Rome. He 
wrote Covici: 


551 



“A couple of days ago I went into the Vatican Li- 
brary and archives — what a place! I guess the most 
exciting I ever saw. Manuscripts by the acre and all 
beautifully catalogued. I am accumulating a huge 
fund of Maloryana. I wonder whether I will ever get 
it written. It is such a huge job and sometimes I get 
very tired. Sometimes I think I have written too 
much. But, hell, it’s kind of a nervous tic by now.” 


To Elizabeth Otis and Chase Horton: 


Rome 

April 26, 1957 

Dear Elizabeth and Chase: 

I have been reading all of the scholarly appraisals of the 
Morte, and all the time there has been a bothersome thought 
in my brain knocking about just out of reach, something I 
knew that was wrong in all of the inspection and yet I 
couldn’t put my finger on it. Why did Launcelot fail in his 
quest and why did Galahad succeed? What is the feeling 
about sin, the feeling about Gwynevere? How about the res- 
cue from the stake? How about the relationship between Ar- 
thur and Launcelot? 

Then this morning I awakened about five o’clock fully 
awake but with the feeling that some tremendous task had 
been completed. I got up and looked out at the sun coming up 
over Rome and suddenly it came back whole and in one 
piece. And I think it answers my nagging doubt. It can’t be 
a theory because it won’t subject itself to proof. I’m afraid it 
has to be completely intuitive and because of this it will 
never be very seriously considered by scholars. 

Malory has been studied as a translator, as a soldier, as 
a rebel, as a religious, as an expert in courtesy, as nearly 
everything you can think of except one, and that is what 
he was — a novelist. The Morte is the first and one of the 
greatest of novels in the English language. And only a 
novelist could think it. A novelist not only puts down a 
story but he is the story. He is each one of the characters 
552 



in a greater or a less degree. And because he is usually a 
moral man in intention and honest in his approach, he 
sets things down as truly as he can. 

A novel may be said to be the man who writes it. Now it is 
nearly always true that a novelist, perhaps unconsciously, 
identifies himself with one chief or central character in his 
novel. Into this character he puts not only what he thinks he 
is but what he hopes to be. We can call this spokesman the 
self-character. You will find one in every one of my books 
and in the novels of everyone I can remember. It is most 
simple and near the surface in Hemingway’s novels. The 
soldier, romantic, always maimed in some sense, hand — tes- 
ticles. These are the symbols of his limitations. I suppose my 
own symbol character has my dream wish of wisdom and 
acceptance. 

Now it seems to me that Malory’s self-character would be 
Launcelot. All of the perfections he knew went into this char- 
acter, all of the things of which he thought himself capable. 
But, being an honest man he found faults in himself, faults 
of vanity, faults of violence, faults even of disloyalty and 
these would naturally find their way into his dream charac- 
ter. Oh, don’t forget that the novelist may arrange or rear- 
range events so that they are more nearly what he hoped 
they might have been. 

For example, if Malory had been at Rouen and had seen 
the cynical trial, the brutal indictment and the horrible 
burning, might he not be tempted in his novel to right a 
viTTong by dreaming he had done it differently? If he were 
affected by the burning of Joan and even more by his failure 
to save her or even to protest, would he not be likely to have 
his self-character save Gwynevere from the flames? In a 
sense he would by this means have protested against the 
killing of the falsely accused but he would also in a sense 
have cured it. 

And now we come to the Grail, the Quest. I think it is true 
that any man, novelist or not, when he comes to maturity has 
a very deep sense that he will not win the quest. He knows 
his failings, his shortcomings and particularly his memories 
of sins, sins of cruelty, of thoughtlessness, of disloyalty, of 
adultery, and these will not permit him to win the Grail. And 
so his self-character must suffer the same terrible sense of 
failure as his author. Launcelot could not see the Grail be- 
cause of the faults and sins of Malory himself. He knows he 


553 



has fallen short and all his excellences, his courage, his 
courtesy, in his own mind cannot balance his vices and er- 
rors, his stupidities. 

I think this happens to every man who has ever lived but 
it is set down largely by novelists. But there is an answer 
ready to hand. The self-character cannot win the Quest, but 
his son can, his spotless son, the son of his seed and his blood 
who has his virtues but has not his faults. And so Galahad is 
able to win the Quest, the dear son, the unsoiled son, and 
because he is the seed of Launcelot and the seed of Malory, 
Malory-Launcelot has in a sense won the quest and in his 
issue broken through to the glory which his own faults have 
forbidden him. 

Now this is so. I know it as surely as I can know anything. 
God knows I have done it myself often enough. And this can 
for me wipe out all the inconsistencies and obscurities schol- 
ars have found in the story. And if the Morte is uneven and 
changeable it is because the author was changeable. Some- 
times there is a flash of fire, sometimes a moody dream, 
sometimes an anger. For a novelist is a rearranger of nature 
so that it makes an understandable pattern, and a novelist is 
also a teacher, but a novelist is primarily a man and subject 
to all of a man’s faults and virtues, fears and braveries. And 
I have seen no treatise which has ever considered that the 
story of the Morte is the story of Sir Thomas Malory and his 
times and the story of his dreams of goodness and his wish 
that the story may come out well and only molded by the 
essential honesty which will not allow him to lie. 

Well, that was the problem and that was the settlement 
and it came sweetly out with the morning sun on the brown 
walls of Rome. And I should like to know whether you two 
find it valid at all. In my heart and in my mind I find it true 
and I do not know how in the world I can prove it except by 
saying it as clearly as I can so that a reader may say — “Of 
course, that’s how it had to be. Whatever else could be the 
explanation?” 

Please let me know what you think of this dizzying induc- 
tive leap. Does it possibly seem as deeply true to you as it does 
to me? 

I shall dearly like to know what you think. 

Love to all there, 
John 


554 



To Pascal Covici 


Florence 
May i6, 1957 

Dear Pat: 

Spring has finally come, and late spring at that. The rains 
have stopped and the sunshine is beautiful, almost painfully 
beautiful so that in the morning you look out and take a quick 
breath as you do when you are quickly, sharply hurt. This 
afternoon I walked for quite a long time by the Arno and 
repeopled it. And I can now. I know what the people used to 
wear and to some extent how they thought, at least in so far 
as any age can get near another. But I told you I felt that I 
understood. 

Thanks for sending Atkinson’s letter on to me. [Brooks At- 
kinson, drama critic of The New York Times.] I have an- 
swered it. 


The House Committee on Un-American Activities 
had investigated Arthur Miller. Steinbeck had writ- 
ten a defense of him published in Esquire. 

I feel deeply that writers like me and actors and painters are 
in difficulty because of their own cowardice or perhaps fail- 
ure to notice. When Artie told me that not one writer had 
come to his defense, it gave me a lonely sorrow and a shame 
that I waited so long and it seemed to me also that if we had 
fought back from the beginning instead of running away, 
perhaps these things would not be happening now. These 
committee men are neither very brave nor very intelligent. 
They would not attack an organism which defended itself. 
But they have been quite brave in pursuing rabbits and in 
effect we have been like rabbits. McCarthy [Senator Joseph 
McCarthy] went down not because Eisenhower faced him. 
That is a god damned lie. Eisenhower was scared of him. It 
took one brave man, Ed Murrow, to stand up to him to show 
that he had no strength. And Artie may be serving all of us. 
Please give him my respect and more than that, my love. You 


555 



see, we have had all along the sharpest weapons of all, words, 
and we did not use them, and I for one am ashamed. I don’t 
think I was frightened but truly, I was careless. 

Only two more days in Florence. I’ve had a large and good 
time here with too much work perhaps but very valuable. 

love to all there, 
John 


Steinbeck’s feeling for Arthur Miller was reflected 
in a letter written the year before to Annie Laurie 
Williams: 

“Did you ever hear the poem I wrote for Artie 
Miller? I guess he is the most peaceful man in the 
world and one of the gentlest. Anyway one time 
when I was going into Mexico, he asked me to bring 
him a machete. You know in Oaxaca they make the 
most beautiful in this hemisphere. The makers are 
in fact direct descendants of the sword makers who 
went from Damascus to Toledo in Spain and then 
brought their secrets to Mexico. They make the 
great blades which can be tied in a knot and then 
spring back straight. Arthur wanted the machete, 
not for murder but to cut brush on his country place. 
Anyway I bought a beauty and since most of these 
have some noble statement etched on them I had 
etched on this blade the following poem which I 
think is funny, if you know Artie: 

Who dares raise war ’gainst Arthur Miller. 
Destroys the Lamb, Creates the killer. 

Then Leap, Sweet Steel, release the flood, 

Until the insult drowns in Blood. 

Artie loved it and perhaps even once or twice got to 
believing it.” 

The Steinbecks next went to Manchester to meet the 
eminent scholar and leading authority on Sir 
Thomas Malory and the Fifteenth Century, Profes- 
sor Eugene Vinaver, who held the chair of Romance 
of the Middle Ages at the University of Manchester. 

556 



To Professor and Mrs. Eugene Vinaver 


The Lord Crewe Arms Hotel 
Blanchland [England] 

July 20, 1957 

My dear Professor and Madame Vinaver: 

I cannot tell you what pleasure and stimulation I had in 
meeting and talking with you. I carry a glow from it in the 
mind as well as well-defined gratitude for your hospitality 
which was princely. Just as Launcelot was always glad and 
returned to find that a good fighting man was also a king’s 
son, so I am gratified to know that the top of the Arthurian 
pyramid is royal. Having read you with admiration, I could 
not have believed it to be otherwise for I have been fortunate 
in meeting a number of great men and it has been my invari- 
able experience that in addition to eminence, superiority has 
two other qualities or rather three — simplicity, clarity and 
generosity. 

It could not be otherwise with you and is not. There is a 
final ingredient in the recipe for greatness — enthusiasm — 
which you have to a superlative degree. I shall carry this 
glow for a long time. 

I hope you will not be bored with me if I vnrite to you 
occasionally and, if I know myself, at great length, and even 
presume to ask questions both of fact and of intuition. 

Elaine joins me in compliments and gratefulness. Nothing 
would give us greater pleasure than to be allowed to enter- 
tain you in our own querencia. 

Finally, my deep thanks for your kindness, your hospitality 
and your encouragement. It provides a noble pediment for 
work which I dearly hope will not embarrass you. 

Yours in pleasture 
John Steinbeck 


557 





. . taut as 
a bowgtring. . 



Attended P.E.N. Congress in Tokyo. 


Once There Was a War published. 




O John Steinbeck IV 


ELEVEN YEARS OLD, AT EAGLEBROOK SCHOOL, 
DEERFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS 


Sag Harbor 
August 7, 1957 

Dear Catsell; 

Finally I got your long and beautiful letter and was prop- 
erly impressed. There was a laugh in every line. Nancy 
Brown must be a killer, even if she is “shear jelousy.” Please 
don’t marry her right away unless she can support you, in 
which case grab her up even if her name does sound like an 
item on a police blotter on a Saturday night. As for your 
ducking of DeeDee Snider in the pool, I seem to detect some 
catbirdian technique for keeping Nancy off balance. And it 
is a tried and true method. Don’t ever forget it. And I wonder 
whether some more of the “shear jelousy” is not attributable 
to certain catbirdiana. Just remember that you are a poor kid 
with no prospects and no fortune — in fact a brave but pitiful 
character. That way you will be loved for yourself rather 
than for financial tangibles. You had better learn from the 
experience of others, namely me. Solvency never made a girl 
less attractive and has been known to improve the appear- 
ance of a clubfooted harelip. 

I hasten to tell you that our beloved government charges 
duty or customs on items sent in from outside the country. 
The twelve dollars duty on the microscope was just such a 
thing. I am interested in your remark that you had paid for 
it. I ha d understood that your grandmother and also your 
mother paid it so that makes $36 already and since I will 
inevitably pay it $48 seems to be the final figure. But I will 
settle for $12 just as soon as I find out who actually disbursed 
the money. 

561 



It strikes me that having a rich brother may be setting you 
back emotionally so tuck the enclosed bill in your pocket and 
invest it as you see fit in Nancy Brown, but don’t give her the 
impression that this is going to last. 

Please give my love to Thom and tell him that next year is 
Geo-Me year 

with love from your 
Fa. 


Though ostensibly to Annie Laurie Williams the fol- 
lowing letter is really addressed to the creators of a 
musical play based on Of Mice and Men which was 
eventually produced off-Broadway. It was adapted 
by Ira J. Bilowit and Wilson Lehr, with lyrics by 
Bilowit and music by Alfred Brooks. 


To Annie Laurie Williams 


New York 
August 28, 1957 
Wednesday 

Dear Annie Laurie: 

With reference to the Mice and Men music and plans we 
heard the night before last — I would not presume to give 
advice to creative people, which means of course, that I will 
inundate them with advice. 

The company must add a freshness to my play which may 
well suffer from a kind of mustiness. 

First, I like what I heard. I know the pressure they are 
under and they did it very well and I am grateful. There was 
freshness and force in what they did. M & M may seem to be 
unrelieved tragedy, but it is not. A careful reading will show 
that while the audience knows, against its hopes, that the 

562 



dream will not come true, the protagonists must, during the 
play, become convinced that it will come true. Everyone in 
the world has a dream he knows can’t come off but he spends 
his life hoping it may. This is at once the sadness, the great- 
ness and the triumph of our species. And this belief on stage 
must go from skepticism to possibility to probability before 
it is nipped off by whatever the modern word for fate is. And 
in hopelessness — George is able to rise to greatness — to kill 
his friend to save him. George is a hero and only heroes are 
worth writing about. Boileau said that a long time ago and 
it is still true. 

The other night the word “corn” came up and I said not to 
be afraid of corn. I want to amend that now. In an otherwise 
lovely song the words occur “It wasn’t meant to be.” To me 
this is fake corn. It implies a teleology not inherent in this 
play. You will find any number of things were not “meant to 
be” in a lot of successful plays and songs and I hate every 
pea-picking, Elvis Presley moment of them. 

On the other hand a sense of fate expressed as I have heard 
it “Everything in life is 7 to 5 against” — is good corn. If the 
protagonists leave a feeling that they never had much of a 
chance — and in this play that is perfectly true — let them sing 
that the deck was stacked, the dice shaved, the track muddy, 
there was too much grease on the pig — corn, sure, but make 
it corn in the vernacular. I like the idea of a little party when 
the girl comes to her new home. Let it almost work! Almost! 
and let the audience feel that it might. 

I like the idea that George might get the girl or at least that 
he might want to get the girl. This would enrich. And also 
you might let the girl feel that she might want George — all 
good and all possible. 

Now let me finally speak of music. I am pleased with the 
freshness and unhackneyed tone. I like the hint of the blues. 
Remember, please, though that music can pull the guts out 
of an audience. Consider then — ^hinting at the known — the 
square dance, the ballad, the ode, again the blues, even the 
Moody and Sankey hymn form. These are part of all of us and 
we rise like trout to mayflies to them. Hint at them — ^because 
after all this is a ranch. Let your audience almost recognize 
something familiar and out of that go to your freshness. 

My friend Abe Burrows told me a very wise thing once 
about theatre and I believe him. He said — “Your audience is 
usually ahead of the play. They get impatient if you tell them 

563 



something they have already got. Give them a signal and let 
them do it.” My own plays, most of which have failed, have 
failed because I told audiences things rather than let them 
move along. A good mule skinner simply indicates to his lead 
pair what he wants by a twitch of the jerk line. And the 
mules do it. 

Now finally — I am pleased and excited with this project. I 
think it can have stature as well as uniqueness. I know the 
old feeling about never letting the author backstage but I 
think you will find me a different kind of author. I have no 
wish to protect my “immortal lines,” I want a play and I’ll go 
along with anything that works — and help with it too. Just 
let’s keep it hard and clean and very, very sparse. The emo- 
tion is in the situation. Let the audience emote and let the 
players simply twitch the jerk line. 

And there is the advice I said I wouldn’t presume to give 
you. Believe me please when I say that if I were not stimu- 
lated by what you have done — I wouldn’t bother. 

Good luck and thanks — 

John Steinbeck 


Having been invited to attend the P.E.N. Congress in 
Tokyo in September, Steinbeck wrote William 
Faulkner for advice about Japan. Faulkner replied 
from Charlottesville: 

“The thing to watch for is their formality, their 
excessive prolongation of mannerly behavior; I had 
to watch myself to keep from getting fretted, impa- 
tient, or at least from showing it, with the prolonged 
parade of social behavior, ritual behavior, in even 
the most unimportant and unscheduled social con- 
tacts. They make a ritual of gift-giving— little 
things, intrinsically nothing. I was always careful to 
accept each one as if it were a jade Buddha or ivory 
fan, and return in kind, I mean with the same for- 
mality, giving the same importance not to the gift 
but to the giving, the act. 

“That’s all you need remember. A culture whose 
surface manners is important to them; a people al- 

564 



ready sold in our favor; they will know your work by 
the time you get there much better than you will 
ever know theirs. They will really make you believe 
that being a writer, an artist, a literary man, is very 
important. Probably the nicest gift you can give is an 
inscribed book of your own.” 


To William Faulkner 


New York 
February 20, 1957 

Dear Bill: 

Thank you very much for your advice. 

I think possibly I knew these things but it is good to have 
them underlined. I know what you mean about the continued 
formality, and it makes me itch a little bit, but I think I will 
get by with it. 

I am particularly glad about the advice about taking books. 
I get so damned sick of them before they are out that giving 
them to someone seems a poor present. But if that’s what 
they want, that’s what they’ll get. 

I read in the papers that you are considering going to 
Greece. I hope you do. Nothing has ever given me the 
emotional impact like that little country — an earthquake 
feeling of coming home, a recognition of everything. And 
the light makes it seem that you can look into the sur- 
faces of things and see them in depth. I have never been 
quite so moved as I was by my first experience in Greece, 
and it doesn’t get any less moving. They are wild, crazy, 
disrespectful, independent people and I think you’ll love 
them. 

I was asking the brother of the Queen something about 
peasants and he told me a story of walking with the King in 
the countryside and stopping where a man was tilling a field. 
They asked him what kind of fertilizer he was using. The 
man straightened up, looked in the face of his sovereign and 
said: “You stick to your kinging and let me stick to my farm- 
ing.” 


565 



Again, thanks for your advice. I shall try not to disgrace us 
and if I succeed in doing that, it will be a success. 


Yours, 

John Steinbeck 


To Elaine Steinbeck 


Imperial Hotel 
Tokyo 

September i [1957] 

My darling. 

We arrived under a barrage of cameras usually reserved 
for M. M. [Marilyn Monroe] Good room here with air condi- 
tioning and the courtesy immaculate. Thirty-eight hours 
flying. Wake b land a hell hole of heat. Honolulu — Glendale 
in the Pacific. Hersey and Dos Passes wonderful traveling 
companions. Typhoon on the way but that means hot 
weather. If the reception last night at 10 p.m. is an indication, 
this is going to rival a Roman triumph, including the arches. 
I’ll write a little to this here and there as I go along. Phone 
is ringing, phone is ringing. 

Later — ^I have been interviewed unendingly all day long. And 
to put it delicately, my ass is dragging. Remember that piece 
about how many newspapers there are in Japan? It was an 
understatement. I must admit one thing though — the men 
they send are of a much higher caliber than any I have ever 
experienced. The questions are intelligent and the discus- 
sions a pleasure. But it is wearing. 

I find now that they have scheduled me for a speech tomor- 
row. I was not told about this. You can be sure it will be the 
shortest speech on record. 

The beer is excellent and I am sticking to it. The maids fold 
the end of the toilet paper with a neat little point every time 
I leave the room — ^like paper napkins in an Italian res- 
taurant. I’ll show you how to do it. Mighty pretty. I may 

566 



end up as a toilet paper folder. 

I am told that the Emperor has expressed a wish to see me 
and that I would like to do. He is a darned good marine 
biologist among other things. Hissing is no longer done so- 
cially but bowing is constant. I have bowed so much that my 
waistline is going down. For the time being I am substituting 
for Fujiyama as a tourist attraction. Heard a story about a 
professor, which I am stealing to use on the Ike administra- 
tion. It was said of him that he was “a sham giant surrounded 
by real pygmies.” I told a newspaper man that I loved Japa- 
nese lanterns, paper fish and kites, and I suspect I am going 
to be given a crate of them. Never mind. I’ll love them. Some- 
one sent me a plastic pencil box with 6 pencils. A newspaper 
sent me a box of calling cards with my name on each side. 
English on one and Japanese on the other. The typhoon has 
not arrived yet but everyone expects it with a certain plea- 
sure. I am following advice to rest every moment I can. There 
aren’t many. It will take me months to get the smile off my 
face and this noon I caught myself bowing to a samovar in 
the dining room. For your private ear — Elmer Rice is a fool. 
He is so afraid of doing something wrong that he is going to 
end up doing nothing, which is the story of all such meetings. 
I have a little sneaking suspicion that he resents me. So I 
guess I’ll have to make a pet of him. Egos are in bloom as you 
might well suspect. And this might well be the worst thing 
I have ever done. I wish to God the typhoon would strike. 

I’ll close this now. It isn’t very gay. 

Love, 

J 


[September 3] 
[Tuesday] 

Now it’s Tuesday the third of Sept., of the longest week in 
the world. Yesterday morning I was in the tub reading the 
paper when I discovered to my horror that I was to make the 
closing address of the opening session. They had not told me. 
I went into a blind panic, sat on the stage imder blinding 
light. The Mayor of Tokyo spoke half an hour. The Prime 
Minister three-quarters of an hour — ^I thought, in Japanese, 
but was told later English. The international president of 
PEN (French) gave an impassioned address, shadow boxing 
the while. An Indian lady delegate intoned a long prayer in 

567 



the bell tones of a red coon hound and then there was me, 
down front and lighted with enough candle power to illu- 
mine all Japan. I got a bowling ball grip on the lectern to 
keep from falling on my face — and plunged. I enclose my 
address. This is not an excerpt. It is the whole damn thing, 
accurately quoted. It took, with interpreter, not more than 3 
minutes. And at the end all hell broke loose, probably out of 
relief at its brevity. Every paper has printed it. It has been 
compared to Japanese poetry and someone has set it to mu- 
sic. Anyway, thank God I didn’t know, or I might have wor- 
ried up an address and that would have been dreadful. 

I’ll have to finish this note later. 


[September 7] 
[Saturday] 

Later is right. It is now the following Saturday. The roof 
fell in on me. I couldn’t keep down things I swear I never ate. 
Everybody sent doctors. The U. S. Embassy sent a Colonel of 
Army Medical. So I had to come 7,000 miles to get Asiatic flu. 
I’m still not sure it wasn’t better than the speeches. I’m up 
now but weak as 8 cats and the suggestion of a Japanese 
dinner of raw fish brings hot flashes. The Congress has 
moved on to Kyoto. My room looks like a combination of 
Forest Lawn and a garbage dump. I’ve subsisted on tomato 
soup (Campbell’s) for four days. The only thing I could keep 
down. I’ve been a perfect guest because I couldn’t get away. 
From 8 to 12 smiling Japanese hosts have observed my most 
delicate moments — and they have been real delicate. At 
some moment of fever I wrote 64 analects on a yellow pad in 
the manner of Confucius. 

Now hear this — I get on the plane at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday the 
loth and I arrive in San Francisco 24 hours later at 6:30 p. M. 
Tuesday the loth. Don’t think about that. It will just make 
you mad. 

The doctor let me up for two hours yesterday and I bought 
you two beautiful pearls for earrings — lo 1/2 centimeters and 
flawless. And I was very happy to get back to bed as he told 
me I would be. I plan to spend the weekend opening a bale 
of letters, mostly in Japanese and one in Japanese braille. 
The poor things have read my stuff in Japanese and the idea 
that I didn’t write it that way has not penetrated. 

Hersey and Galanti^re have been wonderful to me. They 

568 



just phoned from Kyoto 8 hours away to see how I am. We 
will be on the plane together Tuesday. Dos Passos has been 
an angel also. What a nice bunch of people. 

I’m sorry I didn’t get this letter olf to you but I’ve been a 
little off my rocker. You know what fever does to me. 

Typhoon Bess has been raising hell in Japan. She is sup- 
posed to strike Tokyo tonight sometime but kind of weakened 
— only 70 miles instead of 115. It has been raining dogs and 
very hot and sultry. Anyway the Governor of Tokyo promised 
us a typhoon and he’d better deliver. It’s kind of dull here 
with everyone away in Kyoto. I’ll try to save a copy of my 
analects but they are pretty much in demand. Dos Passos 
read them to the Congress and apparently they caused a 
sensation. Congresses aren’t very humorous bodies and some 
of my dichos are pretty sharp. Anyway, I saw enough of this 
first Congress to know it is my last. I guess some people just 
aren’t cut out for them. Another bundle of mail just arrived. 
I’ve got to open it sometime. The ones I have looked at begin, 
“I are Japan girl higher student which like you bookings.” 
Mostly they enclose photos and pretty cute too. I could be a 
real heller with Japan girl higher student if I having im- 
pulse. But not soooo. Hai! I’m going to hit the sack now. 

Damndest people. Phone just rang and a man told me a 
long story in Japanese. When he paused, I said, “Hai” and he 
hung up. I wonder what Hai means? 

Anyway I love you — ^what’s left of me. And you wouldn’t 
want the part I threw away. 

Yours, 
Tokyo Rose 

Oh! Lord! a letter eight feet long has just come— Japanese. 
Looks like poetry. Very beautifully written. I’m going to have 
to send lots of books in English when I get home. I should 
have brought a suitcase full. They want them in English. 

After lunch now (Saturday night). I can’t sleep and I miss 
you. Miss you like the devil. I’ve looked for wind-bells but can 
find only little ones. Have decided to make my own. I’ll bet 
I can. I bet I can even pitch them. I’ll copy the little ones 
bigger — maybe even use plate glass if I find it has a good 
tone. Or brass tubing might be nice. You can see that I’m 
getting well. I’m making plans. I’m anxious to get home now. 
But then, I wasn’t anxious to leave. 

569 



Four more vases of flowers came this evening. There’s not 
much room left for me. It stays hot and muggy and they 
promised that when the typhoon passed it would cool off. 
Bess went and missed us so no flying rooftiles or anything, 
but the southern cities were beat up and the southern rice 
crop ruined. I saw a 6oo-year-old cypress a foot and a half 
taU. Beautiful thing. Haven’t seen the Emperor. He’s tied up 
with Yugoslavs. 

I’ve got to stop this nonsense now but I do miss you. 

Love, 

Abata Watabe 


September 8 
Sunday 

Honey; 

I’ll write this and then race across the Pacific and try to 
beat it to America. Let’s don’t move to Japan. It is charming 
but I’m fed up with charm. I’ve done the turn. I’ve had the 
boneless chicken, the tea ceremony is fine but I don’t under- 
stand much of it. The Imperial Palace is lovely. It is sur- 
rounded by a moat. I asked a Japanese how deep it was and 
he said deeper than a cab. He knew because he saw one taxi 
go in and it disappeared. 

, the British delegate, made a long, impassioned 

speech in a high girlish voice. His interpreter, a real girl, had 
a low voice. It went on radio and the Japanese are still won- 
dering how it is that the girl spoke in English and the man 
in Japanese. Is certainly a puzzlement. 

The delegation was nearly loo percent queer. The 

Americans — Hersey, Dos Passes and me — shockingly mascu- 
line. Rice is an old lady but a masculine old lady. Galantidre 
would make passes at a lady streetcar. All in all, we have 
given P. E. N. a bad name. 

I should go out and walk around and I dread it. It’s like 
swimming in warm blood, humidity 300 percent. You don’t 
breathe, you bubble. I’m sorry to have to tell you this and 
crush your hopes, but we will not live in Japan. You can 
grow your chrysanthemums at home. 

Love, 

Watanabe 


570 



September 9 
Monday 

Darling: 

Back at the old stand. The morning paper says the epi- 
demic has broken out again in Tokyo and schools closing for 
lack of customers. 

The feeling about the bomb is something. It is strange and 
submerged and always present. It isn’t quite anger and not 
quite sorrow — it is mixed up with a curious shame but not 
directed shame. It is an uncanny thing — in the air all the 
time. The typhoon rain is reported to have an all time high 
of radioactivity. Every bomb test is salt in the wounds. 


[September 10] 
[Tuesday] 

Next morning — ^The hall boy whose name is Yoshiro is a 
friend of mine and has taken care of me. He came in at 
about 8:30 and said a girl wanted to see me. I told him 
that is ridiculous at this time in the morning. He said, 
“Please see her because she came in from the country to 
see you and she has been waiting two days. She brought 
you a present.” So I said, “O. K. Bring her in.” She had a 
perfectly flat face and rather poor clothes and they were 
torn. And she was weeping. Her name is Mifuyu Ni- 
shikawa. The hotel people would never let her in because 
of her poor clothes. So this morning she tried to get in 
through a back entrance and they put up barbed wire and 
she got caught in the wire and Yoshiro got her loose and 
brought her in secretly. She brought me two carved 
figures she made herself. She cried the whole time. I gave 
her a ballpoint pen and a letter which she particularly 
asked for and she wouldn’t take any money. She had 
brought a copy of Grapes in Japanese she wanted signed. 
Then I got on clothes and took her out through the lobby 
so she wouldn’t have to go through the wire again, and 
she cried the whole time. 

About 10:30 the President of Tokyo P. E. N. visited me with 
a bouquet bigger than he was. 

A Japanese girl who has been helping us told me that 
Kyoto was once the capital of Japan and was very beautiful. 
I asked her why they had moved the capital to Tokyo and she 
said Kyoto has rowsy crimate. And I guess it has but I can’t 


571 



see how it could be rowsier than Tokyo. The air is full of 
damp feathers. 

Love, 

Tokyo Joe 


To Mrs. Donnie Radcliffe 

OF THE STAFF OF THE SAXmAS-CALIFORNIAN 


New York 
December 22, 1957 

Dear Mrs. Radcliffe; 

The blinding flash and mushroom cloud of the suggestion 
that a Salinas school be given my name is shattering as a 
compliment, and I love compliments as well as the next man 
— maybe better. A heartwarming honor it is, even as a 
suggestion. 

So far only my first name has been given to an institution. 

Perhaps it is well to inspect honors in the light of cool 
reason lest the footprint in the concrete disclose a bunion. Do 
the proposers of this naming wish to subject my name to the 
curses of unborn generations of young Salinians? Think of 
the millions to whom the name Horse Mann is a dirty word. 

But the danger of the situation is not only aimed at me. 
Consider, if you will, the disastrous result if some innocent 
and talented student should look into my own scholastic re- 
cord, seeking perhaps for inspiration. Why his whole ambi- 
tion might crash in flames. 

In view of these sober afterthoughts, and being still shaken 
by the compliment implied, I hope the Board of Trustees will 
think very carefully before taking this irrevocable step. 

If the city of my birth should wish to perpetuate my name 
clearly but harmlessly, let it name a bowling alley after me 
or a dog track or even a medium price, low-church brothel 
— ^but a school — ! 

In humble appreciation, 

John Steinbeck 


572 



At the foot of the page, in his own handwriting, he 
added: 

Dear Donnie; This is a copy for you. And of course you may 
print it in any way you see fit. What fun! Twenty years ago 
they were burning my books. Makes me feel old and pretty 
dead and I assure you I am neither. 

Yours, 

J. S. 


Joseph Bryan III, the writer, had been a friend of the 
Steinbecks ever since their meeting in Spain in 1954. 
He lived in Richmond, Virginia. 


To Joseph Bryan III 


New York 
[December 17, 1957] 

YES, JOE, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS IF YOU BUT LOOK 
ABOUT. HE IS: 

In the wistful eyes of a general writing Santa for one more 
star; 

In the homeward tread of a call girl whose date wanted to 
dance; 

In gay, song-driven garbage men; 

In the earnest loft burglar with twelve fur coats for his 
mother; 

In the selflessness of Richard Nixon and of his wife Pat 
and of his children whose names I do not know. 

SANTA IS ALWAYS THERE IF YOU HAVE EYES TO SEE. 
YOU WILL FIND HIM: 


573 



When you hit your funny bone on the bathroom door, Kris 
Kringle is nigh; 

He dwelleth on the top floor of the FBI Building at 69th and 
Third Avenue; 

You will glimpse him in the subway at 5:15; 

His cheery hand reaches for the cab door you thought you 
had; 

When your show closes out of town — look for reindeer 
droppings; 

Santa speaks in the kindly voice of the income tax collec- 
tor; 

He lurketh under the broken filling — peereth from behind 
the ulcer and caroleth in the happy halls of Mattewan. 
Yes, Joe, there is a Santa Claus if we but seek him — BEFORE 
HE SEEKS US. 

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL 
AND 

GOODNIGHT 

When you slip in the bath tub and land on your ear 
hallelulia in excelcis 
Kris Kringle is near 
(Sorry, Virginia) 

J. and E. 


Throughout this winter the Morte d’Arthur was 
never far from his mind. 


574 



To Elizabeth Otis 


New York 
March 1958 
Friday 

Dear Elizabeth: 

I enjoyed the other night at dinner very much. Lots of 
laughter and fun. I do feel to myself as though I were drawn 
taut as a bowstring and might snap, and I’m afraid I com- 
municate that feeling. I find it almost impossible to discuss 
the Morte and the more I read the more that is so. It has 
tunneled so deep in me that I can hardly dredge it up to the 
word level. 

I can’t tell you what solace I get from the new boat [at Sag 
Harbor]. I can move out and anchor and have a little table 
and a yellow pad and some pencils. I can put myself in a 
position so that nothing can intervene. Isn’t that wonderful? 
I bought a little kerosene lantern with a mantle today so I can 
even work at night on board. And also a tiny heating thing 
that works with alcohol which can warm the cabin in the 
coldest weather. I’m beginning to take health from it long 
before it is delivered. 



To Elizabeth Otis and Chase Horton 


[New York] 
March 14, 1958 

There seems to be something necessary about pressures. 
The other night I was lying awake wishing I could get to 
Malory with a rolling barrage of sling-stones and arrows — 
which isn’t likely to happen — and suddenly it came back to 


575 




me that I have always worked better under pressure of one 
kind or another — poverty, death, emotional confusion, di- 
vorces — always something. So maybe I had better pray not 
for surcease but for famine, plague, catastrophe, and bank- 
ruptcy. Then I would probably work like a son-of-a-bitch. I’m 
comparatively serious about this. 

A curious state of suspension has set in, kind of a floaty 
feeling like the drifting in a canoe on a misty lake while 
ghosts and winkles, figures of fog go past — ^half recognized, 
and only partly visible. It would be reasonable to resist this 
vagueness, but for some reasons which I will set down later, 
I do not. 

It is all very well to look back at the Middle Ages from a 
position of vantage. The story, or part of it is finished. We 
know — to a certain extent — ^what happened and why and 
who and what were the causes. This knowledge of course is 
strained through minds which have no likeness of experi- 
ence with the mind of the Middle Ages. But the writer of the 
Morte did not know what had happened, what was happen- 
ing, nor what was going to happen. He was caught as we are 
now. In forlornness — ^he didn’t know finally whether York or 
Lancaster would win, nor did he know that this was the least 
important of problems. He must have felt that the economic 
world was out of tune since the authority of the manors was 
slipping away. The revolts of the subhuman serfs must have 
caused consternation in his mind. The whisperings of reli- 
gious schism were all around him so that the unthinkable 
chaos of ecclesiastical uncertainty must have haunted him. 
Surely he could only look forward to these changes, which 
we find healthy, with horrified misgiving. 

And out of this devilish welter of change— so like the one 
today — he tried to create a world of order, a world of virtue 
governed by forces familiar to him. And what material had 
he to build with? Not the shelves of well-ordered source 
books, not even the public records of his time, not a single 
chronological certainty, since such a system did not exist. He 
did not even have a dictionary in any language. Perhaps he 
had a few manuscripts, a missal, maybe the Alliterative Po- 
ems. Beyond this, he had only his memory and his hopes and 
his intuitions. If he could not remember a word, he had to use 
another or make one up. 

And what were his memories like? I’ll tell you what they 
were like. He remembered bits and pieces of what he had 
576 



read. He remembered the deep and terrible forest and the 
slime of the swamps. He remembered without recalling sto- 
ries told by the fire in the manorial hall by trouveres from 
Brittany; but also in his mind were the tellings in the sheep 
byre in the night — by a shepherd whose father had been to 
Wales and had heard Cymric tales of wonder and mysticism. 
In his mind were perhaps some of the triads and also some 
of the lines from the poems of hidden meaning which sur- 
vived in him because the words and figures were compelling 
and spoke to his unconscious mind, although the exact 
meaning was lost. The writer had also a sky full of cloud-like 
history, not arranged in time but with people and events all 
co-existing simultaneously. Among these were friends, rela- 
tives, kings, old gods and heroes, ghosts and angels and devils 
of feeling and of traditions lost and rediscovered. 

And finally he had himself as literary material — his vices 
and failures, his hopes and angers and alarms, his insecuri- 
ties for the future and his puzzlement about the past. Every- 
one and every event he had ever known was in him. And his 
illnesses were there too, always the stomachache, since the 
food of his time was inadequate for health, perhaps bad teeth 
— a universal difficulty, maybe arrested syphillis or the 
grandchildren of the pox carried in distorted genes. He had 
the strong uninspected fabric of the church, memory of mu- 
sic heard, unconscious observation of nature, since designed 
observation is a recent faculty. He had all of the ac- 
cumulated folk-lore of his time — ^magic and sooth-saying, 
forecast and prophecy — ^witchcraft and its brother medicine. 
All these are not only in the writer of the Morte — they are the 
writer. 

Let us now consider me — ^who am the writer who must 
write the writer as well as the Morte. Why has it been neces- 
sary to read so much and to accumulate so much — ^most of 
which will probably not be used? I think it necessary for me 
to know everything I can about what Malory knew and how 
he might have felt, but it is also necessary for me to be aware 
of what he did not know, could not have knowm, and could 
not feel. For example — ^if I did not know something about 
contemporary conditions and attitudes toward medieval vil- 
leins and serfs, I could not understand Malory’s complete 
lack of feeling for them. Actually, without considerable 
study on the part of a present-day man— if he were con- 
fronted by a fifteenth century man — ^there would be no possi- 


577 



ble communication. I think it is possible through knowledge 
and discipline for a modem man to understand, and, to a 
certain extent, live into a fifteenth century mind, but the 
reverse would be completely impossible. 

I don’t think any of the research on this project has been 
wasted because while I may not be able to understand all of 
Malory’s mind, at least I know what he could not have 
thought or felt. 

[unsigned] 


To Eugene Vinaver 


New York 
March lo, 1958 

Dear Eugdne Vinaver: 

It will not have escaped your notice that a mule has foaled 
in Cornwall, that there has been an unusual appearance of 
the northern lights, that the weather has been strange and 
that there have been meteorological manifestations which, 
in a more enlightened age, would have been justly consid- 
ered portents. 

Those portents refer to Elaine and to me. 

We are arriving in London about June ist and will be at the 
Dorchester. We will be staying in England for the month of 
June. 

I have read until I am blind with reading. I think I have 
some emotional grasp on the 15th century. And as is natural 
— the field has widened faster than I could go so that the only 
thing which has increased is my own ignorance. But there 
must come a time when one says to oneself: “If I go much 
further, I will know nothing.” Now, I must feel and taste 
some few more things — Colchester, Hamburgh, Cornwall. 
These are stimulations to intuition. 

My profound hope is that some time during the month of 
June, you might be able to join us in a walk about— -perhaps 
to let imagination run free. My associate, Chase Horton, is 
going to join me. 

578 




Elaine sends her finest to you and to your charming wife 
Betty and so do 1 . 


Yours, 

John Steinbeck 


To Joseph Bryan III 


[New York] 
March 15 [1958] 

Dear Joe: 

This is the kind of letter you write when you just want to 
talk and haven’t anything to say. Snowing hard outside. 
Typewriter clacking in the other room with a good girl copy- 
ing long sections of an article in Speculum — mostly in Latin 
of the 15th century. That’s one reason for the hand writing. 
The other is that it is the only kind of writing that comes 
naturally to me. 

Elaine is doing very well [after surgery]. Next Monday she 
will get out for the first time for Tamara Geva’s birthday. 
Meanwhile she has the telephone and squads of visitors. It is 
snowing today — ^big pieces like white cow flops and the 
streets a mess already. 

I envy you being able to talk with Graves. I have never met 
him but I want to. Have been going over his White Goddess 
again. What a man! He knows more about what I am trying 
to get at than anyone. Scholars have a way of parenthesizing 
periods and then slipping in behind the safety of the paren- 
thesis. Only Graves seems to have a true sense of continuity. 
It doesn’t stop on century changes nor tidy up with descrip- 
tive drawstrings. One thing grows out of another while keep- 
ing a great part of what it grew out of. The American West- 
ern is not a separate thing but a direct descendant of the 
Arthurian legend with all the genes intact and drawn to the 
surface by external magnets. Nor was the legend ever new. 
Anyway, I am not going to belabor you with scholastic frus- 
trations. Just tell Mr. Graves, please, that I admire and wish 
to God I could talk to him. 


579 



So many of these scholars are full of holes. Also — they, 
some of them anyway, are incredibly vain. Also they cover 
for one another. 

But enough of this faculty club bickering. I simply want to 
know what happened insofar as it can be known. 

I’m making a dedication of the Malory work to my sister 
Mary, who was deeply involved in it. I wrote the opening the 
other day — funny to write a dedication before anything else. 
I enclose a copy which I think might amuse you. But it isn’t 
meant to be funny. It is deadly serious and damned good 
Middle English, I think you will agree. 

For yourself the best. Why don’t you start a boarding house 
on your inheritance? Might be a new Tom Wolfe. 

so long, 
I S. 


WHAN AS CHYLDE NINE WYNTRE OF 
AGE I TORE SIEGE AT ROUNDE TABLE 
MONGST ORGULUS AND WORSHYPPFUL AND 
DOUGHTYEST KNYGHTS OF KYNG ARTHUR’S 
COMPAGNY — GRATE LACK WAS OF SQUYRES 
OF NOBLE BIRTH AND HARDYNESSE TO 
BEAR SCHYLDE AND LAUNCE, TO BOCKLE 
HARNYSS, TO SALUE PROWTSS AND 
SUCCOURE FALLEN. 

THAN YT CHAUNCED THAT SQUYRE- 
LYKE DUnS FELL ON MY SYSTIR SIX WYNTRE 
OF AGE THAT FOR JANTYL HARDYNES HAD 
NO FELLA WE LYVYNGE. 

SOMTYMES YT HAPS IN SADDNESSE 
AND PYTIE THAT WHO FAYTHFULL SERVYS 
YS NOT FAYTHFULL SEEN— MY FAYRE AND 
SYKER SYSTER-SQUYRE DURES STYLLE 
UNDUBBED. 

WHEREFORE THYS DAYE I MAK 
AMEND YS TO MY POWER. I MAYKE HIR 
KNYGHT AND GIFF HER LONDIS. 

AND FRO THYS HOWER SHE SHALL BE 
HIGHT— SIR MARY STEINBECK OF THE VALE 
SALYNIS. 

GOD GYVE HIR WORSHYPP SAUNZ 
JAUPARDYE. 


580 


A reminiscence of “Sir Mary” occurs in a letter 
to Mrs. Waverly Anderson, Elaine Steinbeck’s 
mother: 

“My youngest sister when she was a little girl 
didn’t want to be a girl at all. She felt it the great- 
est insult that she was a girl. And when you con- 
sider that she rode like a cockleburr, was the best 
pitcher anywhere near her age on the West side 
of town, and was such a good marble player that 
the season had to be called off because she had 
won every marble in town, you can understand 
why she felt that it was unjust that she should 
wear little skirts. This all gets back to a magic 
she designed. One that didn’t work — ^to her sorrow. 
She felt that if she went to sleep in just such and 
such a position, she would be a boy when she 
awakened. For a long time she experimented with 
positions but she could never arrive at the right 
one and every morning — there she was, still a girl. 
This was great sadness to her. And then her girl- 
ness crept up on her and she became lady-like. 
She threw a ball with that clumsiness girls have, 
she ran with little stumbling steps, she cried a 
great deal — ^in a word she became a dame.” 


To Elizabeth Otis 


[Sag Harbor] 
April 6, 1958 

Dear Elizabeth; 

This is really heaven out here. There is only one draw- 
back to it. If there are guests or children here I have abso- 
lutely no place to go to work or to be alone. My stuff gets 
stuffed into closets and drawers and it sometimes takes 
me several days to find it again. Right now Thom is with 
us. I am going to build a little tiny workroom out on the 
point, too small for a bed so that it can’t be considered a 
guest room under any circumstances. It will be off limits 
to everyone. I can take electricity out there on a wire 
which can be rolled up when we are not here. It doesn’t 

581 



need plumbing of any kind. I designed a cute little struc- 
ture, six-sided, with windows looking in all directions. Un- 
der the windows will be storage space for paper on three 
sides and the other two will be a desk so that it will need 
no furniture except a chair and I will use one of our can- 
vas deck chairs for that. It will look like a little light- 
house. Fm going to get to it right away because Elaine 
gets too lonely without guests and with no place to go 
guests throw any work I want to do sky high. I will build 
most of it myself and then with that and the boat I will 
have some semblance of privacy. One of its main features 
will be an imposing padlock on the door. I think I am go- 
ing to name it Sanity’s Stepchild. 

I’m afraid I can’t concentrate today. A thirteen-year-old 
boy who paces, can’t sit still, doesn’t read, picks up things and 
puts them down, rattles things and can’t go outside because 
it is raining and probably wouldn’t want to anyway, is slowly 
driving me to distraction if I am trying to concentrate. 
Sanity’s Stepchild looks very good to me at this point. 

So that is that. 

Love, 

John 


Sanity’s Stepchild was only a temporary name. Fol- 
lowing his Arthurian bent he soon christened the 
little work-house Joyous Garde, after the castle to 
which Launcelot took Guinevere. 


582 



To Elizabeth Otis, Chase Horton, 
and Shirley Fisher 

A SENIOR PARTNER AT MCINTOSH AND OTIS 


Dorchester Hotel 

London 

June 5, 1958 

Dear Elizabeth 
and Chase 
and Shirley: 

The loveliest weather you can imagine and every flower 
screaming with joy and splashing color about. Even the 
British grudgingly approve. This is the nicest trip we have 
ever had — ^no press, no telephones, no appointments. We 
have wandered about, to Pyx and Muniment rooms of the 
Abbey, to the London Museum in Kensington Palace to see 
the models of the city down the ages from wattle on a 
mud flat, to Roman camp to Caesar’s ill-erected Tower — 
and in the streets following the line of old walls, and the 
dream memories of the street names, along the Embank- 
ment. You have only to squint your eyes a little to see it 
all in all periods. 

I have written John Forman [headmaster of the Forman 
School, where Thom was enrolled] a letter of such consum- 
mate treachery that any way he turns he will be trapped. I 
will be interested to see what he has to answer. It is a deadly 
and Jesuitical letter. I wish I could send you a copy but I had 
no carbon. 

Elaine has gone out this morning to tombify. When she 
gets home we can scrape her for graveyard dust. 

Kenneth Galbraith, the economist, came through the other 
night from lecturing in Warsaw. He had many stories, par- 
ticularly the jokes being told within the party. My favorite is 
a solemn definition. A student said; “Under Capitalism man 
exploits man, whereas under Communism it is just the re- 
verse.” 

The month is moving along steadily. It will l?e time to 
leave before we know it. But it is a wildly pleasant trip 


583 



and good even if it were of no value. 

I think I’ll go out and walk and look now. I like that. 


Love, to all, 
John 


This is “the deadly and Jesuitical letter” to the Head- 
master of Thom Steinbeck’s school. It dealt with a 
problem that had come up before. An anonymous 
letter-writer, signing himself FBI, had called Mr. 
Forman’s attention to the sentence in Cannery Row 
in which Steinbeck mentioned that some of the girls 
in Fauna’s house were Christian Scientists. 


To John Forman 


[London] 
June 3, 1958 

My dear Mr. Forman: 

Your letter of May 31st arrived this morning and I have 
considered it very slowly trying to understand both what it 
says and what is perhaps implied. In this response I hope to 
leave no room for interpretations. 

When I visited the Forman School and enjoyed your hospi- 
tality I was quite well aware that you and Mrs. Forman were 
Christian Scientists. And surely your feeling that there was 
no hostility was keen and accurate. Indeed the opposite was 
true, for it seemed to me that we were in agreement that the 
Christian fabric is a strong and ancient tree out of which a 
number of branches grew, and that one must know the tree 
before one is capable of climbing to his own personal branch. 
I wish my son to know the tree. The branch he chooses will 
be what his feeling, his thought and his nature make desir- 

584 




able and necessary. In this I think we agreed and I still be- 
lieve that to be so. But I would no more interfere with his 
choice than I would rob him of any other freedom so long, at 
least, as his choice is not dictated by fear or ignorance, or 
social or economic gain. However, he must have the tools of 
choice — ^knowledge, understanding, humility and contem- 
plation. 

I have never felt or uttered contempt for any religion. On 
the other hand, in religion as in politics I have attacked 
corruption and hypocrisy and I think in this I have the indis- 
putable example of Jesus, if authority be needed. 

Let me now go to Page 17 of Cannery Row. I dearly hope 
that neither you nor your friend read it out of context. The 
statement that a number of the girls were Christian Scien- 
tists was neither contempt nor satire but simply a statement 
of fact. For eighteen years I lived and worked in that labora- 
tory. The book is only fiction in form and style. I do not know 
what the organized church felt about it but these girls took 
comfort and safety in their faith and I cannot conceive of any 
Christian organization rejecting them. There is no possible 
alternative interpretation of Jesus’ instructions concerning 
Mary Magdalene. His contempt was reserved for the stone 
throwers. 

Cannery Row was written in compassion rather than con- 
tempt, and a bartender who reads Science and Health (and 
he did) seems to me no ill thing. Few heroes and fewer saints 
have sprung into being full blown. 

In only one book have I tried to formalize my own personal 
branch of the ancient tree. That was East of Eden, and while 
it is long, it is precise. 

Finally, I am content that you can and will help my son in 
the always agonizing search for himself, for I felt that the 
tone and the overtone of the school were good. And while I 
am not inclined to be critical, I do feel saddened by the man 
who, calling himself FBI, used as a weapon a misinterpreta- 
tion of one sentence of a lifetime of work. It seems to me that 
it was an unkindly and therefore unchristian impulse. 

John Steinbeck 


585 



Toward the end of the month, he reported to Eliza- 
beth Otis: 


“A letter from Forman says — ‘What a lovely letter. I 
feel very happy now about having Thom with us 
next year. I hope we are going to have the added 
pleasure of seeing you as time goes on — ’ 

“I think that took some doing after my letter and it 
makes me think that he is a better man than I might 
have. Mine was a tough letter to answer, I think you 
will agree, and he did it well.” 


To Elizabeth Otis 


London 
June 13, 1958 
Friday 

Dear Elizabeth and I guess Chase, if he hasn’t taken off 
before this arrives: 

We just got back to London this afternoon. Went by train 
to Glastonbury on Tuesday. Stayed in Shirley’s pet George 
and Pilgrim in the room of Henry VIII from the window of 
which he is supposed to have watched the sacking of the 
Abbey. We climbed the Tor and sat for a very long time up 
there seeing how it was and talking to an old Somerset man 
and a little boy. A lot of time in the Abbey close, just watch- 
ing. Bought all of the local books and their theories and read 
them, walked about and more looking. Then the man who 
wrote the current London hit play Flowering Cherry [Robert 
Bolt], who teaches school nearby, took us to village cricket 
and afterwards, with the teams or elevenses if that’s what 
they are called, for beer and skittles in the village pub and 
we learned a lot: Of pixilated fields where people will not 
walk, of witchcraft still practiced so that only last year a man 
was tarred and feathered as a witch for casting spells. And 
it is a magical country and it does seem to me that the Somer- 
set people don’t look like the others. They have cats’ eyes, 
both men and women, and they hide behind their eyes like 

586 



sleepy cats. I asked for and got some cuttings from the Glas- 
tonbury Thorn which flowers at Christmas, and I am going 
to try to root them. Maybe I can. If Joseph of Arimathea could 
root his staff I should be able to root a fresh cutting from his 
staff. 

Love to all there, 
John 


He was. It still grows in the Sag Harbor garden. 


To John O’Hara 


London 
June 14, 1958 

Dear John: 

Yours was a good letter. I can’t tell you how glad and warm 
I felt to get it. There was kindness in it and wisdom and 
besides it was god damn good writing. I am glad also to see 
that maturity, which is ordinarily a process or even a syno- 
nym for erosion, has not eliminated ferocity in you. I have a 
very strong feeling that you are about to shoot the moon. 

I knew the shock of Belle [O’Hara’s first wife who had died 
in January 1954] and I was speechless hoping that you would 
understand that my inability to trap words into a pattern was 
somehow a measure of my sorrow. But you have a little girl 
to keep you linked securely to past and future, and a big girl 
(his second wife, Katherine] to relate future and present. 
Hell, man, they drive us — else I suppose we wouldn’t move at 
all. 

My boys are moving into the smelly, agonizing glory of 
manhood. I won’t know the world they will inhabit. I just get 
glimpses of the life they live now. But the incredible gal- 

587 



lantry of a child facing the complication of living with no 
equipment except teeth and nails, and accumulated instincts 
and memories that go back to the first activated cell in a 
house of plasm, never fails to astonish me. And I am amazed 
at their beauty, pure unadulterated loveliness. My boys have 
been going through the horror of disintegration about them 
and handling it with more wisdom and integrity than I could 
whistle up. 

I am springing them from Walpurgis on the East Side this 
fall. They are going away to school, a new and frightening 
life also but without the pattern of decay which has been 
their sentence for the last few years. There is little communi- 
cation between father and son but a deep and wordless love 
creeps through I think from both sides of the barricade. I 
wish we benighted gentiles had a bar mitzvah — a moment 
when the community accepts them as men — important, re- 
sponsible and free. The two boys and I had a small Irish 
version of it recently when I welcomed them as men, told 
them it was a painful thing and magnificent — tried to ex- 
plain the slavery of freedom. But I think they know. They 
have had secretly to wear the toga while pretending to be 
babies. 

I think they need eagles now, the external physical symbol 
of truth and gallantry with which to identify themselves. I’m 
having massive signets carved which aim to be the standard 
of themselves, to tie them to the line and to introduce them 
to truth and virtue. It must be intensely personal and at the 
same time relate them. It may be what used to be called 
corny and probably now has another name but means the 
same. So I have decided to tie it to the most personal thing 
we know — our name. 

Our name is an old one from Westphalia or the Saxon 
Baltic before they moved on England. Stein still means a 
stone but beck is exclusively English as a word. Some time 
in the 13th century my blood people moved down the map 
instead of up and got fancy. Probably put a chain across the 
Rhine and charged toll against the poor bastards who simply 
wanted to transport goods. This benefaction naturally enno- 
bled them and they began wearing a “von” to prove — ^what- 
ever they wanted and/or had the power and weapons to 
prove. However, that was all dropped not because of democ- 
racy but because it was too damned hard for their neighbors 
to spell. But the name in old English and disappeared Saxon 

588 



means stone stream — or brook or beck. I can’t draw — but the 
seals are a rapid stream taking the reverse curve of an S and 
in the stream at the belly of the S a large rock with the water 
flowing around it on either side and the motto “Aqua petrum 
vincit.” Poor kids have water and rocks in themselves as well 
as their name and I think it’s no bad thing for them to know 
that water does defeat rocks. 

We are here for a month. I’m doing final research before 
beginning a very long and to me a satisfying job. 

I hope all is well with you. Your letter had a glow that 
would have shattered a Geiger counter and I take that to 
mean that you are deeply at work and you can’t want better 
than that. 

Thank you for the picture. It has gone up in good and 
proper company. I shall do the same if I ever get one that 
makes me feel pretty but right now I don’t feel glowy. Maybe 
that’s because I am going to work but am not actually in the 
furnace. 

We’ll be back July ist and hope to see you. 

Thank you for writing. It is a letter for keeping and going 
back to. 

Yours and with love from both of us to both of you. 

John 


To Eugene Vinaver 


London 
June 22, 1958 

Dear Eugene: 

I had just finished the enclosed and moved some papers 
and found your gifts which had been placed there while we 
were away — and your wonderful letter. I love compliments, 
even, I suspect, if they aren’t true. My father, who was a wise 
as well as a taciturn man, tried to instruct me and failed as 
all fathers fail. In defamation, he said, inspect the purpose 
and the source. In a compliment do the same. And I think he 

589 



could have found no fault with this except perhaps in my 
unrestrained pleasure. Your letter goes with a very few other 
precious ones — ^which make me alive and proud — a kind one 
from Mr. Roosevelt on the birth of my first son; a private 
letter of commendation from General Arnold, commander of 
our wartime air arm; a letter from a Danish bookseller tell- 
ing of a woman who rowed a boat in from the outer islands 
to trade two chickens for one of my books. Those aren’t very 
many but they